The labor contract between the NFL and its game officials is scheduled to expire at the end of May, but NFL Referees Association executive director Tim Millis is optimistic the sides will reach a new deal before then.
"We'll continue until we get it done," Millis told The Washington Post. "Contrary to what I've read in some places, we are not at an impasse. Sometimes it takes shorter. Sometimes it takes longer. It's part of the process."
The sides began talks in October, but Millis expects another negotiation to take place this month.
"Negotiations are continuing," league spokesman Greg Aiello told NFL.com's Steve Wyche via email Thursday. "We are optimistic that there will be a successful resolution."
However, FoxSports.com reported Wednesday that the NFL hinted at the possibility of replacement officials in a letter to Ron Baynes, chief recruiter of officials, telling him to identify good candidates among recently retired college officials, lower-division college officials and "professional league and semi-professional league officials ... who have the ability to work higher levels but just got overlooked."
"This is a contingency plan to make sure the NFL season will continue on schedule as planned," Baynes said.
The NFL last used replacement officials briefly in 2001, but reached an agreement with its regular officials after the first week of the regular season.
"It's been done before," Millis told The Post. "It's a little earlier this time. If anything made me wonder, it's the timing of it ... (But) we're still negotiating ... I'm sure the action (in negotiations) will pick up."