Could NFL ref lockout cause players strike?

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is going to have to deal with replacement referees in...

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is going to have to deal with replacement referees in his regular-season debut. (JONATHAN ERNST/Reuters file photo)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:33 PM ET

TORONTO - The NFL doesn’t seem to care that its replacement officials aren’t very good.

The NFL Players Association certainly does though and this could get uglier before it gets worked out.

The league alerted teams on Wednesday that its lockout of the NFL Referees Association will continue into Week 1, meaning the replacement officials will handle the openers and “as much ... as necessary,” after that.

Players have expressed concern about the work of the replacements throughout the pre-season and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith told Sports Illustrated that the lockout was “absurd” and indicated the players might even consider going on strike in protest.

“In America it is the employer’s obligation to provide as safe a working environment as possible,” Smith said.

“We believe that if the National Football League fails in that obligation, we reserve the right to seek any relief that we believe is appropriate. The NFL has chosen to prevent the very officials that they have trained, championed and cultivated for decades to be on the field to protect players and — by their own admission — further our goal of enhanced safety. That is absurd on its face.”

The NFL said it is prepared to negotiate with the regular officials, but an agreement is too far off to be done by next week.

Smith is right. A league that rakes in profits in the billions should not accept having anything short of the best referees on the planet enforcing the rules in the regular season.

“When you look at the referees combined, you’re talking about nearly 1,500 years of NFL experience. The National Football League puts such an emphasis on experience that in normal situations they only introduce a rookie referee into the league with a team of experienced officials,” Smith told SI.

“Why would anyone choose to break away from the one new referee with a team of experienced referees and go to a full slate of new referees? The only conclusion that I have is that the league cares more about money than it does about the experience of the referees as a vehicle to increase player safety.”

Replacements were used for Week 1 of the 2001 season before a deal was reached.

BIG CLAIM

The CEO of the company that makes Michael Vick’s protective undergear certainly isn’t afraid to boast.

“I guarantee he will not get hurt,” said Rob Vito, the head of Unequal Technologies, to ESPN.com.

Vick has had multiple injuries to his ribs, the latest coming in the second game of the pre-season, but will play in Week 1, wearing a protective vest.

Vito says Vick will be fine and added that the vest is military-grade.

Vick apparently wasn’t wearing the vest when he got hurt.

COURT TIME

The NFL wants to get the more than 140 concussion lawsuits it is set to face dismissed.

The league will file a motion on Thursday in federal court in Philadelphia attempting to get the suits, which include more than 3,300 former players as plaintiffs thrown out because “the claims are preempted by federal labour law,” read a statement from league spokesman Brian McCarthy.

The players have said the case should be heard because the CBA doesn’t shield the league from allegedly fraudulently hiding the dangers of concussions.

A decision on whether the case will go forward won’t happen until Decemeber.

QUICK HITS

The Cowboys still haven’t ruled out Jason Witten for Week 1, but he’s more likely to return for Week 2 ... Buffalo head coach Chan Gailey says Terrence McGee had a “setback” on Monday and will miss Thursday’s game in Detroit. McGee is recovering from knee surgery but played against Pittsburgh ... Philadelphia has seemingly decided that Chas Henry will be the team’s punter. Mat McBriar was released, leaving Henry as the only option ... Uncertain about the status of Kyle Cook, Cincinnati signed centre Jeff Faine ... Chicago has released wide receiver Rashied Davis ... Oakland has added yet another kick return option, claiming Coye Francies off of waivers from Seattle.

JOHNSON BIGS UP ROMO

Tony Romo has his detractors, but Jimmy Johnson isn’t one of them.

The former Cowboys head coach heaped praise on the current Dallas quarterback on Wednesday, saying Romo would lead the team to a Super Bowl win.

“The guy is a great quarterback,” Johnson said, according to espndallas.com.

Romo, 32, has been spectacular in the regular season and should pass all of Troy Aikman’s passing records in the next few seasons, but has not been able to come through when most needed.

Johnson added Romo “catches more undeserved abuse” than anybody else in the league.

The two-time Super Bowl winner turned TV personality said Romo just needs some playoffs success (he has only one post-season victory to his credit) for everybody else to recognize how good he is.

“You’ve got to win the ring to get it done. I think Romo can get it done. I love Tony Romo.”

Romo appears to agree, admitting he has much to prove in a new Starter ad.

“People say we haven’t succeeded. People say we haven’t won a championship. People critique our lives. People say we get too much praise,” Romo says in the advertisement.

“People are focused on what we haven’t done. That’s what I’m focused on, too.”

LeBron James shed a similar label this year. Now Romo has a chance to as well.

MOSS VOCAL YET SILENT

Apparently, Randy Moss has been very vocal with his new teammates in San Francisco.

He’s giving them all kinds of advice, leading by example on the field and in the swimming pool and he’s even showing them a novel way to deal with the media.

He’s not talking to them.

At all.

Moss talked to the media once during training camp, but has declined since then and said on Tuesday: “Probably not,” when asked whether he would chat anytime soon.

Moss might be unhappy with the negative press he has received over the years, he might be trying to see how long he can get away with ducking questions, or he might just be having fun with the whole thing.

But nobody knows his reasoning, since he won’t say.

Moss has been fined in the past for failing to fulfill his media obligations. Now that he isn’t making anywhere near the same kind of coin he once raked in, he’ll probably give in sooner rather than later.

While he’s not mandated to talk during the pre-season, he will be during the regular season.

When he does, he probably won’t reveal exactly why he chose to bite his tongue.

JAGS HAVE NO REGRETS ON MJD

If you believed Jacksonville owner Shad Khan felt like he made a mistake ripping Maurice Jones-Drew and refusing to give him an extension, you thought wrong.

“I have absolutely no regrets,” Khan told the Florida Times-Union.

Khan previously had urged the star running back to come to camp because the train would be leaving the station with or without him and had a few other things to say.

Khan said he was just being “honest and truthful.”

Whether that’s the correct way for an owner to conduct himself publicly when his best player is unhappy is open for debate.

In any event, it doesn’t appear the situation will be clearing up anytime soon.

General manager Gene Smith said on Wednesday that the team has not thought about trading Jones-Drew and head coach Mike Mularkey has named Rashad Jennings his Week 1 starter.

That means the 2011 NFL rushing leader either will have to sit out a year of his prime, or attempt to win his job back once he’s in shape and keep the peace, despite being incensed about his contract status.

If Jones-Drew does report, the woeful Jaguars might create more fireworks off of the field than they do on it.

STEVE SMITH READY FOR OPENER?

Cam Newton should have his top target for the season-opener after all.

Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said he believes Steve Smith will practice on Sunday and play on Sept. 9th against Tampa Bay.

Smith is recovering from a foot infection. The team said the five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver is “improving.” Originally there were some concerns that Smith had a staph infection and even when that was ruled out, a prompt return seemed like a bit of a stretch.

He had been walking with crutches.

Thanks largely to the presence of Newton, who turned in a tremendous rookie year, Smith has gone from unhappy in Carolina to ecstatic.

The team also said on Wednesday that running back Jonathan Stewart, linebacker Jon Beason, offensive tackle Jordan Gross and fullback Mike Tolbert would not play this week against Pittsburgh.

Gross and Beason are considered probable for Week 1, while Stewart and Tolbert’s availability is less certain.

NAMATH, EDWARDS RIP JETS

Whether on purpose or not, Braylon Edwards gave a shout-out to his current quarterback while sending a shot out to his former one.

When asked to compare rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who surprisingly won the starting job with Edwards’ Seahawks, and Mark Sanchez, who hooked up with Edwards as a rookie in New York, Wilson got the praise.

“I see better things,” Edwards told Yahoo! Sports about Wilson.

“It’s his approach. It’s very veteran-like. He studies film; he breaks it down. He doesn’t approach it like a rookie and he’s not looking for excuses. He’s very impressive.”

We’re not sure if Edwards meant to imply that Sanchez looked for excuses or not, but it’s clear Wilson has impressed more than just head coach Pete Carroll.

Meanwhile, another former Jet, Joe Namath, was more vocal in his criticism of both the Jets and Sanchez.

“I’m concerned with how the Jets are trying to build a team and win a championship,” Namath said on SirisXM NFL Radio.

“They seem more interested in the headlines.”

He added that if the team is going to use Tim Tebow in the wildcat often, it means the brass doesn’t believe in Sanchez.

“The only reason to run the wild cat is if your offence isn’t working,” he said.


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