The national football nightmare is over. The real referees are back.
The National Football League and NFL Referees Association, the union representing on-field officials, agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement late Wednesday night that will end the lockout in time for the full slate of Week 4 games, both sides announced.
“Our officials will be back on the field starting [Thursday] night,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We appreciate the commitment of the NFLRA in working through the issues to reach this important agreement.”
The sides put the eight-year agreement on paper for the union membership to ratify the document on Saturday in Dallas. That’s considered a formality. The agreement is the longest with game officials in NFL history.
“Our board of directors has unanimously approved taking this proposed CBA to the membership for a ratification vote,” said Scott Green, the officials union president. “We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week’s games.”
The timing is important because a new deal means every team would have three games worked by replacement officials. Competitive balance would have been shifted this week since two teams, the Steelers and Colts, have bye weeks.
The two sides were able to resolve their differences after extensive negotiations on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The details are not yet clear, but sources said that the officials will receive a raise and back pay from the lockout and that a developmental program will be put in place with some full-time officials being added.
And on the toughest issue to hammer out, the NFL has agreed to extend the defined pension plan for five more years before the referees are converted to a 401(k) plan.
The end of the three-month lockout came three days after chaos reigned during and immediately after the Patriots’ 31-30 last-second loss on Sunday night to the Ravens. New England coach Bill Belichick grabbed an official looking for a rules clarification, resulting in a $50,000 fine.
Belichick was one of four NFL coaches to be fined by the league for interactions with replacement officials last week.
Washington assistant Kyle Shanahan fined $25,000 for what the league called ‘‘abuse of officials’’ after the Redskins’ loss to Cincinnati on Sunday.
Denver coach John Fox ($30,000) and assistant Jack Del Rio ($25,000) were docked pay Monday for incidents involving the officials during a loss to the Falcons.
The tipping point was undoubtedly the nationally televised game on Monday night. The Packers were robbed of a 12-7 victory when replacement officials failed to call offensive pass interference, and then incorrectly ruled that the Seahawks had scored a touchdown on the final play of the game. The NFL ruled that Seattle’s 14-12 victory would stand.
As news of the agreement flashed across the flat-screen TVs at Boston bars, NFL fans breathed a collective sigh of relief — and spat out a few choice remarks about the league’s use of replacement referees.
“It went on way too long,” said Matt Hart, 32, of South Boston, as he paid his tab at Blackstone Grill near Faneuil Hall. “It should have been done before the regular season.”
That opinion was shared by several fans who felt that the poor officiating at games was ruining the season.
“We, the fans, are paying for these games,” said Gaetano Federico Jr., 42, of the North End, as he made his picks for this week’s games in a darkened corner of Paddy O’s in Faneuil Hall.
The replacements, he said, had diminished the quality of the game to “college level.”
ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, a former Super Bowl-winning coach, called the work of the replacement referees ‘‘tragic and comical.’’
Officials threw a total of 24 flags in Baltimore — 10 against the Patriots and 14 against the Ravens.
Included were a record 13 calls that resulted in first downs.
Once the NFL and union could not come to an agreement to extend their collective bargaining agreement, the league began the dubious plan of hiring replacement officials on June 4.
The sides could not find common ground on the issues of full-time referees, pay increases and, most importantly, the pension for officials.
But because the lockout was not expected to last, the NFL was not able to lure Division 1 college officials. It instead relied on a group of referees that had only worked low-level college football.
The replacements worked all the exhibition games and the first three weeks of the regular season.
On a North End street, Kevin O’Brien said that NFL fans have always complained about the regular officials but that “now there’s a whole new appreciation for the refs.”
“You don’t know what you have till it’s gone,” he said.