It's official: Real refs will ref tonight, agree to 8-year deal

The regular officials will return for Thursday night's game between the Browns and Ravens. The two sides finally agreed to an eight-year deal that will see the average ref earn $205,000 per year by 2019. They made $149,000 in 2011. "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," said Commissioner Roger Goodell. "Now it's time to put the focus back on the teams and players where it belongs." The deal must be ratified by 51 percent of the union's 121 members, who are scheduled to vote Friday in Dallas.

Thank God! We announced this on the site yesterday and it comes as a bit of surprise. I didn't think that the pressures from Monday night's debacle would get the deal done just a couple of days later.

Still, the talks that were had were scheduled before the weekend, it's unclear whether the horrible job of the replacement refs in Week 3 played any part in negotiations but I think it had to. The NFL reportedly received over 70,000 voicemails from angry fans.

This won't give the Packers their win back, and it won't change the fact that the Patriots are also 1-2 because of some terrible calls. Still, the quality of games will improve going forward.

I for one never appreciated the job that the NFL officials, or any officials, do. After all the crap in the first three weeks, now I certainly do.

Details of the deal, via ESPN:
The tentative eight-year deal is the longest involving on-field officials in NFL history and was reached with the assistance of two federal mediators. It must be ratified by 51 percent of the union's 121 members, who plan to vote Friday and Saturday in Dallas.

The agreement hinged on working out salary, pension and retirement benefits for the officials, who are part-time employees of the league. Tentatively, it calls for their salaries to increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.

Under the proposal, 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. The annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019.

Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option to hire a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year round, including on the field. The NFL also will be able to retain additional officials for training and development, and can assign those officials to work games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the league.