The NFL sent a memo to its teams Sunday indicating that it thought Friday that it was close to a deal to end the lockout of officials, but that negotiations broke off Saturday after a brief meeting in which officials made clear that retirement benefits remained the key sticking point.
Now, people on both sides say it is doubtful a deal can be completed in time to use regular officials for Week 1, which starts Wednesday when the Giants host the Cowboys.
“Not sure how long this will drag on at this point,’’ one person briefed on the negotiations said Sunday.
The lead negotiator for the officials, Michael Arnold, said the NFL’s memo provided ‘‘false and misleading information.’’
“It continues to mystify any objective observer of the situation why the NFL would jeopardize the safety of its players, the integrity of the game, and the quality of its product in order to continue its attack on its professional referees,’’ Arnold said in a statement.
According to the memo, commissioner Roger Goodell, in a conversation with referee Jeff Triplette, a member of the officials’ union negotiating committee, was told last week that the financial gap between the league’s offer and the officials’ demands was $4 million a year.
The memo said the league told Triplette that it would increase its offer by $1 million a year above the $1.5 million that had already been proposed, to be used either to increase compensation or as part of the league’s proposal to convert the officials’ retirement plan to a 401(k) from the more traditional pension they have now. That was a shift for the league, which had taken a hard line with officials since their last negotiation in July. In the meantime, replacement officials were used during the preseason with some undesirable results.
Goodell made it clear, the memo said, that the increase was offered with the intent of closing a deal over the weekend, in time for the officials to work the first week of games, and that the officials should not schedule a meeting if that was not their intent. The memo said that in a conversation Friday, Triplette confirmed to Goodell that union representatives were coming to New York to conclude negotiations within the new parameters.
In his statement, Arnold said that any claim that numbers were agreed to before Saturday was ‘‘absolutely false.’’
When the sides met Saturday morning, the memo said, the officials said they would not settle based on those parameters. Scott Green, president of the officials’ union, told league negotiators that Triplette had ‘‘no authority to make that deal’’ and that the increase of $1 million a year was nowhere near enough to complete a deal. The memo said the officials reverted to their position from before the lockout began in June, which the league said meant there was an economic gap of $70 million over the life of the deal.
The union wants all current officials to remain part of the current pension plan, with a 20 percent increase in the pension benefit. New officials would have a 401(k).