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NFL, referees sign new contract in time for Week 4 games

Replacement referees to be replaced in time for Thursday night's NFL game.
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Wide receiver Golden Tate (81) of the Seattle Seahawks battles MD Jennings of the Green Bay Packers for the ball on September 24, 2012 in Seattle during Monday Night Football. (Otto Greule Jr. /AFP/Getty Images)

The NFL and its locked-out referees signed a new contract late Wednesday, NBC and Pro Football Talk reported, in time to have regular officials work Thursday’s Cleveland-Baltimore game.

According to former supervisor of officials Jim Daopoulos, the league and NFL Referees Association signed the deal and immediately started working on finding refs for Thursday night football.

In a press conference Thursday, Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized to fans for the replacement games but insisted the three-month lockout was worth it.

"We're sorry to have to put fans through that," The Associated Press quoted him as saying. "Sometimes you have to go through something like that in the short term for the right agreement for the long term."

The refs are to vote Friday in Dallas on their deal.

They’ll attend a clinic later that day before breaking into their crews, the same as last year, and traveling on Saturday to their games.

The new five-year contract includes a 4 percent pay raise, NBC said.

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Their defined-benefit pension plan, seen as the last sticking point, will remain five more seasons before the refs switch to a 401(k) contribution for another five seasons.

Also at issue was training referees, and that was resolved earlier Wednesday, NFL Network reported.

The NFL and NFLRA agreed to a developmental program that would prepare refs to join the union and work on Sundays.

The league wanted to add 21 refs, but the NFLRA saw any additional officials as a threat to job security.

Goodell’s presence at negotiations on Tuesday, plus the Monday night debacle in Seattle, forced the two sides to bargain late into the night, The Associated Press reported.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said refs are ready for action.

Sources told Mortensen that refs have passed physicals, know the new rule changes from last season and fit nicely into their new Nike-designed uniforms.

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