NFL reaches tentative agreement with refs

Replacement referees have officiated the first three weeks of the NFL season.
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The NFL and the referees' union reached a tentative contract agreement around midnight. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tweeted early this morning with the news, "Pleased to report that an agreement has been reached with the NFL Referees Association. Details to follow."

That means union referees will be back to work as early as tonight. The NFL said it's prepared to get the officials to Baltimore for the Ravens versus Cleveland Browns game.

Union members plan to vote Friday and Saturday in Dallas on the new deal, although both sides are prepared to sign documents as early as this morning to at least make the tentative contract official.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said early this morning after reaching the new deal, "The teams, players and fans want and deserve both consistency and quality in officiating. We look forward to having the finest officials in sports back on the field, and I want to give a special thanks to NFL fans for their passion."

He wants to move on from the frustration that resulted after controversial calls made by replacement referees during the first three weeks of games. After the missed call Monday night that cost Green Bay a win against Seattle, both sides got down to serious business, negotiating for 31 hours over two days.

The new contract for officials is 8 years, the longest in NFL history.

It keeps the pension for current referees through 2016 before changing retirement benefits to a 401K plan. The contract includes a pay raise. Officials will make 173,000 dollars next year. Plus, the NFL may hire more full-time officials to work year-round, and implement a referee development program.