It’s no coincidence that unnamed league executives leaked a chest-thumping slew of news regarding the locked-out officials to Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter of ESPN as ESPN was preparing to air the first Monday Night Countdown of the season. The NFL wants to put the screws to the locked-out officials; what better way to do it than have the screw-turning featured on the pregame show for the first Monday night game of the preseason?
The huffing and puffing from the unnamed league executives is aimed at getting the locked-out officials to realize that, despite widespread criticism of the replacement officials, the NFL doesn’t plan to blink. A deeper goal may be to convince the replacement officials that fanning the flames of criticism of the replacements officials isn’t working, in the hopes that the locked-out officials will, you know, stop doing it.
They likely won’t, even though the efforts of the locked-out officials to stir up trouble aren’t resonating with fans, yet.
The fact that the unnamed league executives also leaked to Schefter and Mortensen (Ed Werder is feeling left out) points of contention unrelated to money suggests that the league wants to take focus off the notion that the two sides are only $100,000 apart per team and to place it on the perception that the locked-out officials don’t want some to be full-time NFL employees, and/or that the locked-out officials want to make it harder to fire any of them for poor performance.
In the end, it’s another game of chicken. Sources have told ESPN that the lockout is likely to last until the third week of the regular season because the NFL believes (hopes) that the locked-out officials will cry “uncle” after missing the first two weekends of real football. The locked-out officials are hoping that the performance of the replacement officials will create the kind of kerfuffle that will push the league to bend.
With most if not all of the locked-out officials having other employment, they won’t be giving in because they need the money. In the end, it could be that their commitment to the game — and their disgust at seeing third-tier and lower replacements screw up calls while wearing the NFL shield — will prompt them to strike a deal and get back to work.
Regardless of when and how it happens, the league and the locked-out officials need to get this done. If we assume that the NFL has hired the best of the best officials to supervise its games, those are the people who need to be working the games that count. Pro football has become way too important to entrust the outcomes to wide-eyed officials who have never worked games in front of 1,000 fans — and who now will be working nationally-televised games played in front of 60,000, 70,000, 80,000, and more.