NFL meets with locked-out refs

Updated: August 31, 2012, 11:12 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The NFL and its locked-out officials met Friday in an attempt to resolve their stalled labor negotiations.

It marks the first time in a month that the league will meet with the NFL Referees Association. The NFL refused to confirm the meeting and declined comment.

The NFL announced this past Wednesday that replacement officials will be on the field for the league's regular-season opener between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell hinted at the possibility that the regular officials could return in time for next Wednesday's contest.

"There's a short-term issue which we obviously would love to be able to get the best officials on the field," Goodell told ESPN's Darren Rovell in an interview Thursday. "If we can't reach an agreement, we'll proceed with the replacement officials as long as it takes."

The NFL Referees Association was locked out in early June and talks on a new collective bargaining agreement have gone nowhere. Replacements have been used throughout the preseason, with mixed results.

A source told Rovell the difference between the sides' latest respective proposals is more than $45 million over the next seven years.

"We would like to get an agreement with the officials," Goodell told Rovell on Thursday. "We think it is important to make sure we look at this from the long term and get an agreement in place that will allow us to improve officiating, and that includes making sure we have the best officials on the field. We'll do what we can to make sure that happens."

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, however, does not believe that replacement officials will have a negative impact on the games.

"As long as it's consistent, then how it affects the outcome of the games really may not be as much," Jones said Friday on KRLD-FM. "The important people out there are the players and the coaches and the fans, and they'll all be there. They'll all be there.

"The (replacement) officials are going to make mistakes, but believe you me, the officials that would be there if we got this resolved will make a lot of mistakes."

League executive Ray Anderson said the sides remain considerably apart on economic issues, including salary and retirement benefits. He also told the teams there is a substantial difference on operational issues.

The league is proposing having seven officials -- one per position of referee, umpire, line judge, side judge, back judge, field judge and head linesman -- who would train, scout and handle communications, safety issues and rules interpretations year-round. Now, all NFL game officials are part-time employees, with outside jobs ranging from lawyer to teacher to business owner.

In response, the NFLRA has said it is not opposed to full-time officials "if they are fairly compensated."

The union also disputes the value of the league's current salary offer, which it says would not be the 5 percent to 11 percent increase the NFL claims.

According to Rovell, the average pay for NFL game officials last season was $149,000. Under the NFL's last proposal, that would increase to more than $189,000 by 2018. In addition, a game official in his first year in 2011 made an average of $78,000. Under the NFL's last proposal, he would make more than $165,000 by the end of the new agreement.

Information from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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