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Negotiations reopen between league, refs

Associated Press / September 1, 2012
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The NFL and its on-field officials’ union began negotiating again Friday, hoping to end the lockout that resulted in replacement officials working the preseason.

The league locked out the NFL Referees Association in early June, then hired replacements, whose work in exhibition games has been heavily criticized.

There even was some optimism surrounding Friday’s talks, as Michael Arnold, lead negotiator for the officials, said in a statement: ‘‘Reports on the economic gap between the NFL and NFLRA are inaccurate.’’

League spokesman Greg Aiello said that statement was accurate.

Earlier this week, NFL executive Ray Anderson said the regular season would open with replacement officials and that the league was prepared to use them ‘‘as much . . . as necessary’’ afterward.

But the NFL has seen and heard the problems the replacements have had this summer, something that tests the integrity of the sport.

In 2001, the NFL used replacements for the first week of the regular season before a contract was finalized. The speed of the game and the amount of time starters are on the field increase exponentially for real games, making the replacements’ task more challenging.

Anderson , the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, told the clubs in a memo Wednesday that the replacements will work ‘‘as much of the regular season as necessary,’’ adding that training with each crew will continue.

With talks reopening for the first time in more than a month, the regular officials could be back to work before the Cowboys visit the Giants on Wednesday night to open the schedule.

Arnold said, ‘‘Ongoing negotiations with the NFL will be conducted in a confidential and professional manner.’’

Skelton’s the pick

The Cardinals are going with John Skelton as their starting quarterback. Coach Ken Whisenhunt explained his decision to go with the third-year player over big-money investment Kevin Kolb, saying, “we feel like the quarterback that gives us the best chance to win right now is John Skelton.” Skelton’s brother Steve, a tight end, was among Arizona’s cuts . . . One day after a throwing a touchdown pass in the Browns’ final exhibition game, Seneca Wallace was waived, shedding Cleveland of his $2.4 million contract. Wallace, 31, was acquired in a 2011 trade from Seattle. The Browns named Thad Lewis the No. 3 quarterback behind rookie starter Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy . . . Trent Edwards, who sat out the 2011 season, made the Eagles as the third-string quarterback behind Michael Vick and rookie Nick Foles. That left Mike Kafka out of the mix . Edwards started 32 games for Buffalo and one for Jacksonville in four seasons, going 14-19 . . . . . . Other quarterbacks looking for new teams include Josh McCown (cut by the Bears), Case Keenum (Texans), Curtis Painter (Ravens), Josh Johnson (49ers), and Sage Rosenfels (Vikings).

Hightower hits road

The Redskins cut Tim High­tower in the latest twist in coach Mike Shanahan’s 2½-year search for a consistent starter at running back. Hightower, who was returning from knee surgery, appeared in only one preseason game . . . Trai Essex, who started 27 of 76 games on the Steelers’ offensive line over seven seasons, was among Pittsburgh’s cuts. Backup quarterback Charlie Batch wasn’t, assuring him of a 15th NFL season. Pittsburgh also placed linebacker Sean Spence on injured reserve after the third-round pick tore ligaments in his left knee in a preseason game . . . The Bills parted ways with veteran defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, who was deemed expendable in part because of his hefty contract ($4.1 million base salary this season) and also because he no longer fits Buffalo’s defensive scheme after a switch to the 4-3. Rookie linebacker Tank Carder, a two-time Mountain West Conference defensive player of the year, also was let go by the Bills The Giants released two members of their Super Bowl-champion team, running back D.J. Ware and linebacker Greg Jones. Terrell Thomas and defensive tackle Shaun Rogers were placed on injured reserve . . . . . . Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline rejoined workouts after missing all four exhibition games because of a left calf injury. His return coincided with three wideouts getting cut: Roberto Wallace, B.J. Cunningham, and Clyde Gates. Also released by Miami was former Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton . . . Veteran cornerback Drayton Florence was let go by the Broncos, who kept Caleb Hanie as a third quarterback as insurance for Peyton Manning . . . The Colts released their longest-tenured player, long snapper Justin Snow, who had played in 192 consecutive games . . . The Chargers moved on from defensive end Jacques Cesaire, who spent nine seasons with San Diego.

Big fine for rookie

Vikings rookie safety Harrison Smith was fined $21,000 by the NFL for a hit on Chargers receiver Mike Willie on Aug. 24. The hefty fine sends a stern message to the first-round draft pick out of Notre Dame, who has already established a reputation as a hard-nosed, big hitter . . . Redskins safety Tanard Jackson was suspended indefinitely without pay by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. It is Jackson’s third drug-related suspension, and he will be eligible for reinstatement in exactly one year.

Fan dies from fall

A 25-year-old fan died after tumbling about 60 feet from a fifth-floor escalator at Reliant Stadium in Houston during an exhibition game between the Vikings and Texans Thursday night. Jonathon Kelly of Houston fell to the ground floor and witnesses called police to report where his body had landed, police spokesman John Cannon said. The fall appeared to be an accident. Two medical teams working at the stadium treated Kelly at the scene before he was transported to Memorial Hermann Hospital, where he died, said Mark Miller, general manager of SMG-Reliant Park. Staffers monitor fan safety at each escalator landing, Miller said.

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