Craig Burd, a replacement official, signals first down during a game between… (Joe Murphy / Getty Images )
Last-ditch contract talks between the NFL and game officials broke down Saturday, meaning the league will open the season with replacement officials on the field.
No further talks with the locked-out officials are scheduled.
“We remain willing to negotiate with the NFL in order to reach a fair agreement,” Mike Arnold, lead negotiator for the NFL Referees Assn., said in a written release. The story was first reported on Twitter by the Los Angeles Times.
The NFL confirmed Saturday that it will move ahead with replacement officials after last-minute talks with the regulars broke down.
“Commissioner [Roger] Goodell and other NFL staff members concluded three days of talks today with representatives of the NFLRA without reaching an agreement,” league spokesman Greg Aiello said in a written statement. “No further talks are scheduled. We are proceeding with the replacement officials.”
Officials are seeking continuation of their defined-benefit pension plans, something they say would cost teams about $6,000 per team per game.
The NFL last used replacements for a regular-season game in 2001, although that was only for Week 1. That labor crisis was resolved in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in a show of unity.
On the whole, the 2001 replacements had more experience working big-time football games, such as major college games. This time, those officials stood on the sideline for this labor fight, and the league has built its crews with a significant number of high school and small-college officials.
Last week, NFL executive Ray Anderson informed all 32 teams by memo that the league would be opening the season with replacements. In subsequent comments to the NFL Network, however, Commissioner Roger Goodell did not rule out a Week 1 return by the regulars.
An NFL source with knowledge of the situation said the latest private discussions were initiated by Goodell and that the league had identified certain economic improvements the clubs were prepared to make to strike an agreement before Wednesday’s start of the regular season.
The source said the NFL Referees Assn. understood and accepted those parameters before Saturday’s meeting began but walked away from negotiations and reverted to its pre-lockout position rather than negotiate within those parameters.
A union official who was not authorized to discuss details of the negotiations denied that the NFLRA agreed to such parameters and said talks ended when the league refused to consider alternative solutions to the compensation and pension issues.
The season opens Wednesday when the New York Giants play host to the Dallas Cowboys.