The National Football League and the NFL's Referee Association are close to a deal to end the lockout—and regular referees could be on the field as soon as this weekend, according to ESPN.com.
ESPN says that an agreement in principle is at hand, citing one source familiar to talks, although NFL owners have maintained a "no more compromise" stance. (Read: NFL Chief Caught Between Bad Calls and Owners' Hard Line.)
ESPN said it could take a week or more to get the 121 officials back on the field, but that the locked out referees are training on the new rules that were installed this season.
There's some hope the officials could be on the job as soon as this weekend's games, according to reports, if a final deal is agreed to by late Thursday. The regular refs would likely not be ready in time for Thursday night's game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.
However, another report says that a league source said shortly after noon on Wednesday, that that it was doubtful the pension part of the labor deal had been finalized, and he hadn't heard that a deal was imminent.
A person briefed on the negotiations told The Associated Press that the talks between the league and its officials resumed Wednesday after a short break after going a 14-hour meeting that started Tuesday. Both sides have made concessions on previous sticking points such as a reserve squad of 21 extra officials as well as some kind of retirement plan, ESPN said.
The NFLRA has fought to retain its traditional pension scheme, but the league has stated it wants to freeze referees' plans and switch them to a less attractive 401(k)-style retirement one. The NFLRA also has wanted any reserve squad to be paid by the NFL instead of the union.
The regular referees have been locked out since June. The NFL has been using replacement refs during the lookout since the season started. Complaints about bad calls escalated after Monday night's game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks ended in controversy. Seattle beat Green Bay 14-12 on a missed call by an official on the final play.
Even President Barack Obama has weighed in on the dispute. He tweeted Tuesday that "NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs' lockout is settled soon."
Meanwhile, the NFL fined Patriots coach Bill Belichick $50,000 and Redskins assistant Kyle Shanahan $25,000 on Wednesday for their conduct toward replacement officials.
Belichick grabbed an official's arm at the end of Sunday night's game after the Ravens kicked a winning field goal. Shanahan was cited by the league for "abuse of officials" in Washington's loss to Cincinnati.
"Whatever the league decides to do, I'll respect and just try and do my job," Belichick said before his fine was announced.
On Monday, the league fined Broncos coach John Fox $30,000 and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio $25,000 for berating officials during a loss to Atlanta on Sept. 17.