NFL could be done soon with replacement refs

Game referee Richard Nicks (2nd R) confers with head linesman Toney Brausell (11) and umpire Darin...

Game referee Richard Nicks (2nd R) confers with head linesman Toney Brausell (11) and umpire Darin Stiers (107) after several contrary calls in the final seconds of the Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals NFL football game in Landover, Maryland September 23, 2012. (REUTERS)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:07 PM ET

The NFL and its locked-out officials might be closer to a new contract agreement than Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate was to catching that ball Monday night.

"It sure looks good," Tim Millis, the executive director of the NFL Referees Association, told USA Today on Wednesday. "(Both sides are) committed to getting it done.

"But there's no deal right now. There's not a deal that's hanging on the table for us to sign within minutes or an hour."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tweeted: "I would not use (the word imminent), but talks are proceeding."

Indeed, caution was urged everywhere after midday reports from ESPN and others suggested a tentative deal was "just about finished with the agreement in principle."

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

Yahoo! Sports reported an NFL owner saying that while it was possible a deal would 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 said.

"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."

Before the past few days, the league and the NFLRA -- which represents the 121 locked-out regular officials -- had been deadlocked for months on key issues.

Numerous reports 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.

Face-to-face talks between the two sides resumed on the weekend in New York City and, after a phone session Monday, continued Tuesday for 17 1/2 hours. Commissioner Roger Goodell took part.

One of the key issues was resolved by Wednesday morning, the NFL Network's Albert Breer tweeted. The NFL wanted 21 full-time officials added, the union didn't. A compromise was reached, with 21 officials added to a development program and promoted on merit.

Those who have been through the process of finalizing sports labour talks urged patience.

"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 finally went public Wednesday afternoon with comments about the bitter labour dispute.

Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis 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!"

Irsay said it wasn't about greed or power-mongering, but rather establishing new initiatives to improve officiating.

Improving officiating? Getting the real refs back would be a big step toward improving officiating, now wouldn't it, Jim.

The players are as excited as anybody at the prospect of the replacement refs being replaced.

"You guys have seen it -- we need them back," St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said Wednesday. "I hope it happens soon. I just don't think it's fair to the fans, I don't think it's fair to us as players to go out there and have to deal with that week in and week out. I really hope that they're as close as they say they are."

The real referees are fully trained, in shape, and ready to work this weekend's games, reports said. There was even a suggestion it was possible for the real refs to work Thursday night's game in Baltimore, between the Ravens and Cleveland Browns, if a deal were to get done in time.

So there you are.

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

And amen to that.

FORTE WORKS OUT

Banged-up Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte practised Wednesday, according to the Chicago Tribune.

That was a surprise, because two weeks ago Forte severely sprained his right ankle in Green Bay. He didn't play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

But Bears head coach Lovie Smith cautioned that Forte still might not be able to play Monday in Dallas.

Forte's backup, Michael Bush, is expected to start against the Cowboys after hurting a shoulder Sunday against St. Louis.

PRACTISED: Among other injured NFLers who did practise Wednesday: New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who will start Sunday in Philadelphia, and former Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant, who worked out for the first time with his new team, the Washington Redskins. Grant wore No. 25.

DIDN'T PRACTISE: Among the injured who did not practise Wednesday was Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush, who said, "I would tell you right now that I'm playing Sunday. But I'm not the head coach." The head coach, Joe Philbin, said if Bush is "healthy enough he'll play, if he is not then he won't." Bush reportedly sprained his right knee Sunday against the New York Jets ... Other sit-outs: Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford (but he is preparing as though he will play Sunday against the visiting Minnesota Vikings), Lions WR Titus Young (knee), Minnesota Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (thigh) and St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson (groin).

WON'T PRACTISE ANY TIME SOON: Arizona Cardinals placed forever-injured running back Chris (Beanie) Wells on injured reserve until at least Nov. 25 with turf toe, an injury he's been battling since his three-year stint at Ohio State.

JETS' McKNIGHT 'TRADED': Here's how bench-warming New York Jets running back Joe McKnight found out from head coach Rex Ryan he was now a cornerback.

"Rex walked into the room and said I was traded -- I got traded to the defence," McKnight said.

The Jets have lost perennial All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis for the season due to a torn ACL in his right knee.

Moving a player unproductive at one position in mid-season to a position of need reeks of desperation.

 


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