The popular view about the gap here -- about $25-30 million over six or seven years -- is that a $9 billion business can easily spare a few million to resolve this. Another view is that the NFLRA is balking at increases, albeit modest, on salaries already averaging $150,000 for part-time employees. As always, there are two sides to every story.
Proposed solution: The NFL moves toward the requested NFLRA increases in pay, but layers them evenly throughout the six or seven years of the deal.
The NFL owners perceive the pension -- negotiated by the officials as part of the now-expired 2006 CBA -- as an "entitlement" ripe for change. The NFL points out that many full-time league and team employees do not receive pensions, so why should part-time referees? Owners want to strip the NFLRA of this entitlement: that was then, this is now.
A pension puts the risk on the employer. The NFL's proposed defined contribution plan puts the risk on the employee. This continues to be the blood issue of this negotiation.
Proposed solution: The NFL raises its defined contribution plan (presently between $16,000 and $23,000 a year) and allows for pensions to full-time officials and those without a second income. The NFLRA relents on requesting further pensions.
The NFL wants seven full-time officials -- one at each officiating position -- to improve the overall quality of the group. Potentially, the number of full-timers could grow.
The NFLRA knows that to be full-time, officials would have to leave their other (full-time) jobs and lose income. The NFL is not going to pay them an amount equal to their present sum of two incomes, nor will it pay what MLB or NBA full-time referees make.
Again, the NFL is trying to make a change in the culture.
Proposed solution: The NFL caps the number of full-time officials and provides year-round physical training and rules seminars throughout the offseason to improve the quality and fitness of its officials group.
The NFL's offer to have three additional crews -- 21 officials -- on "standby" has not been warmly received by the NFLRA. Officials see them as built-in replacement referees, ready to substitute for underperforming first-string referees. The NFL says that it is just trying to deepen its bench and add a layer of accountability.
Proposed solution: The NFL provides the NFLRA extensive and clear criteria for being "sent down." The NFLRA agrees to more accountability in the name of improving the overall level of the product.