NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday refused to close the door on the prospect that the locked-out officials could be back on the field by the first week of the regular season.
When asked specifically about Week 1, Goodell emphasized the need for real talks.
"It takes a negotiation," Goodell told NFL.com and NFL Network. "We know a little bit about negotiations. We've been through them with the players and we've been through them in a variety of different contexts. We're look at this for the long term, not the short term. And the long-term goal is to make officiating better and to improve the officiating. That takes a lot of work, and we need to have the flexibility to make sure we can ensure the best performance on the field from our officials, as well as addressing the economic issues."
When asked again if there was still time to get a deal done with the locked-out officials, Goodell said: "We're, right now, planning on putting the replacement officials on the field. We would love to get an agreement. We respect our officials, and we'd work all night to get it done."
The last set of talks between the NFL and NFLRA occurred in late July. That's why a number of league executives viewed Wednesday's memo -- sent to club executives explaining that the NFL would use replacement refs for Week 1 -- as a warning shot aimed at the officials in an attempt to spur talks.
"We are committing to the replacement officials for as long as we need them to perform their services," Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, told NFL.com and NFL Network on Wednesday. "It's a week-by-week basis, but they are prepared to go the distance if required."
NFLRA spokesman Mike Arnold said on Thursday the economic gap between the NFL and NFLRA remains workable -- at, per his figures, $6,000 per club per week over the life of the deal. Benefits are also an issue.
The referees have been looking to retain their pension plan, while the NFL's demand has been to change it to a 401(k) retirement plan. Arnold said the union offered a compromise that would grandfather in the existing officials' pension plans and have new officials receive the 401(k) plan.
The NFL said it did offer pay increases between 5 and 11 percent for each individual official.