The NFL and the NFL Referees Association reached an agreement late Wednesday night on an eight-year collective bargaining agreement, subject to ratification by the NFLRA.
The agreement comes almost exactly 48 hours after the highly controversial ruling that decided Monday's game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell temporarily lifted the lockout so that the officials can work Thursday night's game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.
"Our officials will be back on the field starting tomorrow night," Goodell said. "We appreciate the commitment of the NFLRA in working through the issues to reach this important agreement."
Officials will vote on the agreement Friday and Saturday, and a clinic for the officials will be held after the vote, according to the NFL.
"Our Board of Directors has unanimously approved taking this proposed CBA to the membership for a ratification vote," said Scott Green, president of the NFLRA. "We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week's games."
The new collective bargaining agreement is the longest between the league and game officials in NFL history.
"The long-term future of our game requires that we seek improvement in every area, including officiating," Goodell said. "This agreement supports long-term reforms that will make officiating better. The teams, players and fans want and deserve both consistency and quality in officiating."
The new agreement includes the following key terms:
- Eight-year term covering the 2012-2019 seasons.
- The current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season (or until the official earns 20 years of service). The defined benefit plan will then be frozen.
- Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires, and for all officials beginning in 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement, which will have two elements: an annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official that will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019, and a partial match on any additional contribution that an official makes to his 401(k) account.
- Apart from their benefit package, the game officials' compensation will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.
- Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option of hiring a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year-round, including on the field.
- The NFL will have the option to retain additional officials for training and development purposes, and may assign those additional officials to work NFL games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the NFL.
Replacement officials worked the first three weeks of games, triggering a wave of frustration among players, coaches and fans.
Discussions towards ending the lockout were picked up in the wake of Monday's frenetic finish between the Seahawks and Packers, in which the replacement crew awarded Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate a game-winning touchdown catch while battling with Green Bay defensive back M.D. Jennings.