Replacement referees will be used to start the NFL season, according to a league memo sent to all teams, according to multiple reports.
With the league and the officials still far apart in contract negotiations, particularly it the area of retirement benefits, the league is set to move forward with replacement, who have "undergone extensive training and evaluation, and have shown steady improvement during the preseason."
To help, the NFL will also employ veteran former officials as supervisors upstairs, with the goal being to contact alternate officials on the sidelines to correct certain wrong calls and help to get future calls right.
The memo also provided an update on the status of the negotiations, and said that the sides are far apart. The memo states that officials were offered a retirement contribution package that would average $20,000 a year, "while the officials' union has proposed a substantially higher amount."
In a recent interview with SI.com, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith blasted the league for its intended use of replacement refs, citing safety concerns.
"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," he told the web site. "That is absurd on its face."
The NFL Referees Association was locked out in early June, and replacements have been used for the entire preseason.
Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, who sent the memo, said in addition to issues regarding salary and retirement benefits, there's a significant difference on operational issues.
"One of our key goals in this negotiation is to enhance our ability to recruit, train, and replace officials who are not performing adequately," Anderson told ESPN. "We believe that officials should be evaluated and performance issues addressed in the same way as players, coaches, club management and league staff. We have proposed several steps to accomplish this, including having a number of full-time officials and expanding the overall number of officials."
The NFL has proposed to add three full officiating crews, increasing the total number of officials to 140. In response, the NFLRA has said it isn't opposed to full-time officials "if they are fairly compensated."
The NFLPA issued a statement in response:
"We are not surprised based on Ray Anderson's statements yesterday that the NFL was not going to reach out to us. However, this is consistent with the NFL's negotiating strategy which has been "take it or leave it" and lock them out. It now appears the NFL is willing to forego any attempt to reach a deal in the last seven (7) days before opening night. It is unfortunate because the referees want to get back on the field. Our members have been engaged in extensive preparations and are ready to go. If the NFL is serious."