Report: NFL, referees reach agreement on developmental system

The NFL and the referees have come to an agreement on one item that has been disputed during the lockout that now threatens to have replacement officials on the field for Week 4 of the regular season.

A compromise has been reached over the NFL’s goal to add 21 full-time officials. The sides agreed to the creation of a 21-man developmental program, according to Albert Breer of the NFL Network. Those officials would work with crews during the week and potentially be promoted on merit.

Unsettled is the pension issue that has been the major divide between the officials and the owners all along. The NFL doesn’t want to pour big bucks into a pension program for part-time workers. The officials don’t want to give up something they believe they already sacrificed to receive.

The good news is the sides met for long hours and more talks are expected. The bad news is the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens will play Thursday night. Barring a quick settlement, unqualified officials will be working that game and the league will once again be in a position where a close game could be decided at the end by an official not prepared to make a call. Or maybe there could be a fan dressed up in black and white stripes like Brian Stropolo, the side judge who was removed from action hours before he was to work a Saints-Panthers game. Stropolo is a hardcore Saints fan.

Stay tuned.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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