There’s nothing to see here. Keep moving. No cause for concern.
That’s what the National Football League essentially is saying as it tries to hold together, with duct tape and dried-up glue, a collection of third-tier-and-worse replacement officials who have struggled at times through two weeks of preseason games.
And it’s much more than bad calls in the heat of the moment. It’s a troubling inability to know what to do, quickly and correctly, after the whistle blows.
NFL V.P. of operations Ray Anderson tells Jarrett Bell of USA Today that the mistakes are being magnified because they are being committed by the folks replacing the locked-out officials.
“Unfortunately, those [errors] have happened with our regular officials,” Anderson said, specifically in reference to a particularly egregious error from Saturday night’s Cowboys-Chargers game (more on that later). “We need better communication between the officials on the field, the NFL observer in the booth and the replay official, to avoid that.”
It sounds like the NFL will be expanding the duties of its replay official and the NFL observer. The replay official and the NFL observer will, apparently, now be tasked with helping keep the duct tape and dried-up glue in place.
And if that’s what needs to happen in order to avoid obvious gaffes, that’s fine with us. Though we doubt that the NFL is scouring these pages for advice (and if they are, God help the NFL), it’s something we’ve suggested.
Yes, the rule book has specific limitations regarding the assistance that the replay official can provide. But that needs to go out the window in the interests of getting things right — and in making efficient decisions.
Former NFL V.P. of officiating Mike Pereira, who ran the department during the last lockout, says the replacements are “struggling” this time around. The fact that the NFL will be gathering the replacements in Dallas this week for a “refresher” clinic easily can be regarded as an admission that more work needs to be done.
Pereira thinks it’s not enough.
“I don’t care how many clinics you have,” Pereira told Bell. “You’re trying to replace 1,460 years of [NFL] experience with zero years of experience. You can have clinics every day for the next three weeks. It’s not going to have them ready.”
Meanwhile, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones doesn’t seem troubled by the possibility that blunders like the one that occurred Saturday night involving his team will bleed into the regular season. Dallas receiver Andre Holmes absorbed a helmet-to-helmet hit from Chargers safety Eric Weddle, and the bouncing ball landed in the hands of Chargers linebacker Donald Butler. Though the officials threw the flag, they let San Diego keep the ball, killing a Dallas drive that should have advanced to the Chargers’ 15.
“As long as they’re not calling it one way for one side and another way for the other, I’m happy,” Jones said. “Somebody might say, ‘But you’re not going to get as many calls.’ Well, what’s wrong with that?“
Here’s what’s wrong with that. It’s wrong.
Either the NFL wants to get the calls right, or the NFL doesn’t. Jones essentially admits that the replacement officials will make more mistakes. Why is that something the stewards of the game should tolerate?
Besides, what about the safety of the players? If the officials don’t have the sense to, for example, take away possession of the ball after an interception sparked by an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit, the message is simple: Keep applying helmet-to-helmet hits. Yeah, you may get fined. But if you help your team win, it’s worth it. (The head coach will approve of that message, especially since he’s not the one paying the fine.)
On Sunday night in Pittsburgh, the replacement officials didn’t even call the penalty after Colts receiver Austin Collie took a pair of blows to the head (one from Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor and one from Steelers linebacker Larry Foote) while obviously in the “defenseless” posture that prohibits hits to the helmet or with the helmet.
The NFLPA did some huffing and puffing regarding the replacement officials, in the days leading up to the Hall of Fame game. With the replacement officials showing an inability to properly safeguard the players, it’s time for the NFLPA to start blowing down houses.
That may be the only way to force the NFL and the NFL Referees Association back to the table.
As we’ve said in the past, the parties aren’t far enough apart to justify turning a game of skill into a game of blind chance — especially when the chances of player injury are increased because of it.
It’s time to get this fixed. More reporters like Bell need to demand it. And fans need to find ways to make their voices heard, too.
If the integrity of the game justifies 77 games of suspensions for something that we still don’t have conclusive proof happened, the integrity of the game definitely justifies solving a problem that is residing in plain sight.