No talks between NFL, union as season nears
NEW YORK—Officially -- at least in their comments -- NFL players and coaches aren't concerning themselves with refereering.
The NFL and its locked-out officials weren't talking two days before the season begins, a clear indication replacements will be on the field for Wednesday night's opener.
Doesn't matter, according to many of the guys who call the plays or carry them out.
"We're going to play the games regardless," Chargers All-Pro safety Eric Weddle said Monday.
"Everyone makes mistakes. I make mistakes. It's just the way human nature is. You can't get hard on guys that are trying to do the best they can. You've just got to deal with it.
"Each week, each game, each practice, they'll get better, so it's not a concern of ours. Regardless, we've got to go out there and execute and take it out of their hands. Let's go out and play good football, execute at a high level and then they won't be in position to throw flags and make judgment calls."
Broncos coach John Fox echoed those thoughts.
"In this game you've got to overcome a lot of things," Fox said. "You've got to overcome the other team. Sometimes you've got to overcome your own mistakes. So, officials have always been a part of it and they've never been an excuse. So, I don't care who's out there, we've got to worry about how we're playing and we'll deal with whatever they call, whether it's old guys, new guys, middle guys. Their stuff sometimes influences the game, but you've got to overcome that."
Both sides met for three days last week, but did not reach an agreement to end the three-month lockout. The replacement officials who worked the preseason games amid much criticism will handle the Cowboys at Giants opener and the other 15 games on the weekend.
"You just have to play your game. You can't even pay any attention to it now at this point," Giants receiver Victor Cruz said Monday. "You just have to go out there and trust that they are spending time in the meeting rooms and those referee rooms, reading the plays and getting the calls down."
The league and the NFL Referees Association, which covers more than 120 on-field officials, are at odds over salary, retirement benefits and operational issues. The NFL has said its offer includes annual pay increases that could earn an experienced official more than $200,000 annually by 2018. The NFLRA has disputed the value of the proposal, insisting it would ultimately reduce their compensation.
With the stalemate, the NFL will use replacements in the regular season for the first time since the opening week of 2001, days after the terrorist attacks.
Many of those replacements came from the highest levels of college football, something that has changed drastically this year. The current replacement crews are comprised of mainly of officials from the Arena League, and the NCAA Division II and III levels.
The league said it will handle the officiating assignments the same way it does in any other year, with the crew for Wednesday night's game not being announced in advance -- even though there's increased interest in who works the game.
"It's one of those things where you just look out there and it's like the difference between having a high school guy play in the NFL versus an NFL guy playing in the NFL," Vikings punter Chris Kluwe said. "The speed's totally different. Those guys are trying hard, but they're just not used to the speed of the game and they're missing a lot of stuff."
But they are missing stuff for both teams. Coaches and players alike are trying not to let that enter their minds as they prepare for their openers.
"I know that these guys are coming in here doing the best that they can, but it's really out of our control. It doesn't matter if we have flag football officials, we've got to go out and play the best that we can and hopefully get a few calls along the way," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said.
AP Football Writer Arnie Stapleton and Sports Writers Bernie Wilson, Will Graves, Tom Canavan and Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.