The regular NFL referees will be back in black and white stripes officiating football games for this week's slate of games. The announcement came late last night, but Packers fans feel the announcement is one week too late. The Green Bay Packers lost a game due to a replacement official's call and it apparently led to an expedited negotiations process with the professional referees.
Starting tonight at the Browns-Ravens game in Baltimore the official NFL referees will be calling the action. A lockout that began in June came to an end before midnight after the replacements worked the first three weeks of games.
A tentative eight-year deal was struck Wednesday and it is the longest termed contract ever granted to on-field officials in NFL history. It must be ratified by 51 percent of the union's 121 members, who plan to vote Friday and Saturday in Dallas.
The agreement hinged on working out salary, pension and retirement benefits for the officials, who are part-time employees of the league. Tentatively, it calls for their salaries to increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.
Under the proposal, the current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season or until the official earns 20 years' service. The defined benefit plan will then be frozen.
Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires, and for all officials beginning in 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement. The annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019.
Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option to hire a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year round, including on the field. The NFL also will be able to retain additional officials for training and development, and can assign those officials to work games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the league.