The National Football League struck a deal with its referees on Wednesday night to end its lockout of the sport's regular officials, allowing them to return to work on Thursday.
Late Wednesday, an agreement was reached between both sides and negotiators started the task of writing a formal document. The NFL plans to formally lift the lockout once the written deal is completed.
The deal has been confirmed by the NFL. The NFL's senior vice president of communications, Greg Aiello, said in a written statement that the league was "pleased to report that an agreement has been reached with the NFL Referees Association."
A crew of regular officials worked Thursday night's game in Baltimore between the Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. The union refs will meet Friday before working Sunday's schedule of games. Apparently, those refs could vote at Friday's meeting to formally ratify the deal.
The agreement ends the NFL's use of replacement officials who called the preseason and the first three weeks of the regular season.
The deal was made in the midst of major criticism directed at the league following Monday night's game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks which ended with what most viewers thought was a blown call by the replacements refs that gave Seattle the win, on the last play of the game.
Reaction at Redskins Park earlier Wednesday to the return of the regular refs bordered on ecstatic.
"It'd be definitely great to have them back out there," said Lorenzo Alexander, a veteran linebacker for the Washington Redskins. "Obviously they're the refs for a reason. I think they'll handle the games in a more professional manner and be more consistent. So it'd be great to have them back out there."
"It'd be nice to have them back," said Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan.
The two sides had been at odds over pensions, salaries, and non-economic issues. As the negotiations progressed, the pension issue appeared to emerge as a major sticking point. By the late stages of the negotiations, salaries did not appear to be a major issue. The average referee's salary was about $149,000 last season and the league offered before the lockout to increase that to $189,000 per referee by 2018, and because of this season's work stoppage, each official lost an average of approximately $50,000 in potential income.