Season will start with replacement refs
The NFL will open the regular season next week with replacement officials and said it was prepared to use them "as much â¦ as necessary" afterward.
Replacements will be on the field beginning Wednesday night when the Dallas Cowboys visit the New York Giants in the season opener, league executive Ray Anderson told the 32 teams in a memo. Negotiations are at a standstill between the NFL and the officials' union.
The NFL Referees Association was locked out in early June and talks on a new collective bargaining agreement have gone nowhere. Replacements have been used throughout the preseason, with mixed results.
In 2001, the NFL used replacements for the first week of the regular season before a contract was finalized. The speed of the game and the amount of time starters are on the field increase exponentially for real games, making the replacements' task more challenging.
Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, told the clubs in a memo Wednesday that the replacements will work "as much of the regular season as necessary," adding that training with each crew will continue.
The NFL noted it has expanded the use of instant replay as an officiating tool this year to include all scoring plays and turnovers. Officiating supervisors will be on hand to assist the crews on game administration issues.
"We are not surprised, based on Ray Anderson's statements â¦ that the NFL was not going to reach out to us," NFLRA spokesman Michael Arnold said. "However, this is consistent with the NFL's negotiating strategy which has been 'take it or leave it and lock them out.' It now appears the NFL is willing to forego any attempt to reach a deal in the last seven days before opening night."
Anderson said the sides remain considerably apart on economic issues, including salary and retirement benefits. He also told the teams there is a substantial difference on operational issues.
Around the league
Panthers • Coach Ron Rivera says he expects five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith will return to practice Sunday and play in the Sept. 9 season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rivera says the former Utah standout is "improving" after developing a foot infection earlier in the week.
Jets • Coach Rex Ryan excused 19 veteran players, including Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes, from practice Wednesday so they could attend what he called a "leadership training" seminar in Bedminster, N.J. The Jets were derailed last season in large part by tension in the locker room and a lack of leadership, highlighted by Holmes arguing in the huddle and being benched during the season finale at Miami.
Buccaneers • Former Utah quarterback Brett Ratliff, third on Tampa Bay's depth chart behind