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NFL, referees break off talks; replacements likely for Week 1

The most recent set of negotiations between the NFL and NFL Referee Association have broken off, greatly increasing the chances that Week 1 of the season begins on Wednesday with the replacement officials in place.

According to sources involved in the talks, the two parties exchanged numbers and ideas Thursday and Friday. That led to a Saturday morning meeting in New York between the league and union with hopes that striking a deal was possible before the start of the season.

But any optimism dissipated quickly on Saturday. One officiating source referred to the session as "not productive," and both parties released statements afterward.

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"Commissioner (Roger) Goodell and other NFL staff members concluded three days of talks today with representatives of the NFLRA without reaching an agreement," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement. "No further talks were scheduled. We are proceeding with the replacement officials."

NFLRA spokesman Michael Arnold said, "We met with the NFL this morning and discussed various potential solutions to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. Unfortunately we were unable to reach any agreement. We are disappointed because it means that our members will not be back on the field for Week 1 of the regular season due to the NFL's continuing lockout. We remain willing to negotiate with the NFL in order to reach a fair agreement. However, no additional meetings are scheduled at this time."

According to an NFL source, the league identified economic concessions it was willing to give to the officials earlier in the week, and this morning the league reaffirmed its offer. But the officials, according to the NFL source, decided this morning to revert to their pre-lockout position.

A union source comfirmed that the parties had exchanged ideas "on how to close the gap on our proposals. But the idea that we agreed to any numbers in advance of that meeting is false. Likewise, the idea that we walked away from the meeting is completely false."

The biggest sticking point for the referees has been with the retirement plans offered. The union initially was dead set against the elimination of its defined-benefits plan (pension), while the league was insistent on switching it to a 401(k).

According to union sources, the officials agreed to offer the concession of having all new officials put on a 401(k) plan, with the old officials' pensions grandfathered in. A union source said the league has outright refused that offer, and that it's a major issue for the existing officials since many of them opted out of retirement benefits with their full-time employers.

Monday has been floated as an unofficial hard deadline to have an agreement in place in time to get the officials back on the field for Week 1, which kicks off in New Jersey on Monday night. But the referees have a process they'd have to go through, which includes approval of a new CBA by their board, and an in-person meeting of all officials to ratify it.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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