NFL owner admits that the confidence in replacement officials is eroding

Let me start off by admitting I was shortsighted about one problem with the NFL's replacement refs: Their decided lack of experience with the procedures of running a game are so bad that it's affecting everyone's confidence.

And by everyone, I mean fans, coaches, players and at least one owner who spoke Tuesday morning on the condition of anonymity.

"I'm not comfortable with what I saw last night," the owner said after watching the Atlanta Falcons' 27-21 victory over the Denver Broncos. "It wasn't professional. It wasn't our standards of what a game is supposed to look like … it's not the calls themselves and it's not player safety. That's a silly argument.

"It's the competence and control of the game officials. The officials are supposed to be in control. They're supposed to run the game. Last night after the fumble [by Denver in the first quarter], they didn't have control. They looked like … I don't want to say what they looked like."

Last night's poorly run game capped a long Week 2 in which two conflict-of-interest issues further eroded the confidence in the replacement refs.

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The NFL revealed in a memo last week that one official in the Week 1 Seattle-Arizona game had worked some practices and had been paid in the offseason by the Seahawks. Another ref was yanked from the New Orleans-Carolina game on Sunday morning when it was discovered he is a diehard Saints fan.

In a third matter, Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy claimed that a ref told him Sunday that he had McCoy on his fantasy team. However, McCoy later said he was joking.

Oy vey. While neither of these first two issues may have ultimately determined the outcome of a game, but that's not the point. Power is often about appearance, not reality.

That was the essence of the one owner's sentiments. It's also what Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was hinting at Sunday after his team lost to the St. Louis Rams. Shanahan said the refs were dangerously close to "losing control of the game."

On Monday night, the refs did lose control of the game in the first quarter when they couldn't keep control of a scrum after a fumble. The six-minute delay in action made the refs look helpless. They confirmed that again later in the first half when they marched off 11 yards on a defensive holding call that was supposed to be only five yards.


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Again, this is not about the actual calls. Yes, there have been plenty of mistakes in that regard. The Ravens-Eagles game featured a missed pass interference call. In New England's loss to the Cardinals, the Patriots had a last-minute touchdown called back because of a highly questionable holding call against tight end Rob Gronkowski.

But questionable calls happen all the time, whether they are replacement refs or the regular guys.

The real issue is how the game is handled. Right now, there are critical stoppages in play where everyone is staring at the officials. The question running through everybody's minds (if not over their lips) is simply, "Do these guys know what they're doing?"

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That's not just bad, it's unacceptable. The one owner wouldn't quite go that far, but it wouldn't take much more to push him over that edge.

"I know that we feel good about the offer we've made to the officials, but we can't have another week like this if we don't settle soon," the owner said. "The amount of money we're talking about is not worth the embarrassment. This is our product."

That comment is the first major crack in the wall of solidarity the owners have had as they hold the line on salaries for officials. To an extent, both the NFL and the NFL Referees Association are right in how they are handling this negotiation.

The NFL believes, not wrongly, that the salary offer it has made is adequate. "We are ready to negotiate at any time," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an email to Yahoo! Sports."

Last season, the average NFL official made $149,000 and the league is offering roughly a five percent increase. There are other issues in play, such as the league's desire to change the pension plan to a 401K.

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On the flipside, the NFLRA is perfectly within its rights to wait out the negotiation to get as much as it can. Currently, the difference amounts to roughly $1 million per year as part of a 10-year deal. In the grand scheme of the NFL business, that doesn't seem like much.

Then again, it's always easy to spend somebody else's money. Bottom line, it's a negotiation and the two sides will figure it out.

In the meantime, you can't help but wonder if the replacement refs are going to figure it out.

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