NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL Referees Association have reached an agreement on a new contract that will end the lockout and the use of replacement officials.
According to the official NFL website, the new collective bargaining agreement is the longest between the league and game officials in NFL history. It is an eight year deal that will return the regular refs to the field in time for Thursday's game between Cleveland and Baltimore.
"The long-term future of our game requires that we seek improvement in every area, including officiating," Goodell said in a statement released by the league. "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.
"We look forward to having the finest officials in sports back on the field, and I want to give a special thanks to NFL fans for their passion. Now it's time to put the focus back on the teams and players where it belongs."
According to the NFL, officials will vote on the agreement Friday and Saturday, and a clinic for the officials will be held after the vote.
The league released the following terms of the agreement:
» 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.