The NFL reached an agreement with the NFL Referees Association late Wednesday to end the referee lockout and the two sides are working on the paperwork now. The league has confirmed the agreement.
“Our officials will be back on the field starting [Thursday] night,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We appreciate the commitment of the NFLRA in working through the issues to reach this important agreement.”
A high-ranked referee told NFL.com and NFL Network's Jeff Darlington earlier that the officials are prepared to immediately begin work, noting he and many others have gotten access to all of the videos from the last three weeks of games that were distributed to the replacement officials.
While the referee said his colleagues would have liked to work a few preseason games, he says it isn't necessary to do their job.
Earlier Wednesday, the league and referees agreed to create a developmental program as a compromise to the NFL's demand for the addition of 21 officials to the current contingent of 121 NFLRA members, per an NFLRA source. The pool of money for the existing officials also will remain the same.
The developmental officials will be mentored by the existing crews and will be assigned to work with them during the week. The developmental officials will not be NFLRA members, will not work games and will not be eligible to be subbed in initially.
But eventually, as they improve and reach the standards to be NFL officials, they will be considered for NFLRA membership. As that happens, the financial pool for officials will be adjusted accordingly.
So how is it possible for them to be ready so quickly?
According to SI.com's Peter King, it is possible. And if it happens, we can all thank Ed Hochuli.
King went on to explain that every Tuesday night, the veteran official (known for his bulging biceps and verbose explanations of penalties) has been holding rules-related conference calls with all officials. Average attendance on the calls, King was told, is between 90 and 110 per week. Hochuli, the officiating sources told King, gives all officials a test each week, similar to one they might get from the NFL during a regular week of preparations, and then goes over the results on the phone with the officials.
"That's one of the reasons why the officials will be up to date and ready to go,' the officiating source said. "Ed grabbed the bull by the horns and made sure that whenever this thing ended, the regular officials would be ready to go back to work immediately.'
Let's hope so. ... I'll be following up as needed.