NFL, real refs close to deal?

The NFL and Referees Association are making progress towards a new contract on Wednesday, Sept. 26,...

The NFL and Referees Association are making progress towards a new contract on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Files)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:00 PM ET

Reports at midday Wednesday indicated the NFL and its locked-out regular officials were "very close" to hammering out a new deal.

ESPN reported that the two sides were "just about finished with the agreement in principle."

But within minutes, reports were tweeted that indicated the two sides might not be that close.

Sports Illustrated's Peter King tweeted, "NFLRA negotiator Scott Green has notified officials that a deal is not imminent."

Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reported that an NFL owner told him that while it is possible a deal will be done in time for the real refs to return this weekend, the owner "stopped well short of calling it probable."

"I would call things 'positive-but-precarious'," the owner told Cole.

"There are still a lot of hard feelings on both sides, a lot of people still drawing lines in the sand, at least verbally. I could see something being done by (Thursday) or it could take another week."

Mark Maske of the Washington Post tweeted that a person familiar with negotiations told him a deal "could be this week" but that that wasn't a certainty.

The NFL Network's Albert Breer tweeted that a union source told him that the idea that a deal is done is "absolutely false," but the two sides are "getting closer (and) have made plenty of progress."

Talks resumed in person on the weekend, and continued Monday by phone, with little if any progress reported.

The league and the NFL Referees Association, which represents the locked-out regular officials, had been deadlocked for months on key issues. Numerous reports in recent weeks have said the structure of the refs' pensions is at the heart of the dispute. The league wants to restructure the pensions of all existing officials, and they refuse to agree to this.

Breer reported Wednesday morning that the two sides talked for 17.5 hours on Tuesday. Commissioner Roger Goodell took part.

As well, Breer reported that one of the key remaining issues was resolved by Wednesday morning. The NFL wanted 21 full-time officials added, the union didn't. "Compromise agreed on: 21 guys in developmental program, work w/crews during week, promoted on merit," Breer tweeted.

Those who have been through the process of dotting I's and crossing T's in labour talks also urged caution.

"Having done this before, everyone needs to wait until the ink is dry," tweeted DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association.

One owner actually went public with comments early Wednesday afternoon about the bitter labour dispute.

Jim Irsay, owner of the Colts, tweeted, "Let's be clear,when our NFL Fans talk,we listen..if you're unhappy,we're unhappy...we're here 2 serve U..everything we do is to please YOU!

"I'll pay $1,00,000,000.00 in Player costs in 7 years...it's not about greed or power mongering..new initiatives 2 improve officiating is key."

Getting the real refs back would be a big step in that direction, now wouldn't it.

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com tweeted that even if a deal is not done imminently, "the day so the replacement refs are numbered."

Amen to that.

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