The NFL and NFL Referees Association agreed Wednesday to convert up to 24 of its game officials to full-time status for the 2017 season, an important step in addressing one of the league's most volatile on-field issues.
The deal amends the officials' collective bargaining agreement for one year and must be renewed in June 2018 for the program to continue, according to NFLRA executive director Scott Green. That effectively makes it a one-year experiment to determine how -- and if -- full-time officials can improve the department's effectiveness.
In a statement, the league said implementation of full-time status "will provide the NFL officiating department, in consultation with the NFLRA, the opportunity to identify the most effective ways to utilize the off-field time for full-time officials throughout the calendar year."
Green said the "biggest difference" will come in the offseason, when full-time officials will spend time at NFL headquarters and participate more closely in rule development meetings with the competition committee. To this point, officials have worked on a contract basis and thus were not available to the NFL between the end of the season and mid-May.
Important details of the program include:
Any of the league's 124 active officials can apply for full-time status. Green said there will be "plenty of people" who will be interested.
The NFL agreed not to compel transition to full-time status for any particular official.
At the NFLRA's request, the league committed to hiring officials from all seven on-field positions rather than just referees, as the NFL initially proposed.
Full-time officials will be allowed to keep outside jobs as long as they agree to make the NFL their top professional priority.
Full-time officials won't have to move to New York but will be required to travel to the league's headquarters with 48 hours' notice.
The NFLRA agreed in 2012 to allow full-time officials, but negotiations did not heat up until the league's competition committee recommended the change in March. Players, coaches and fans have grown increasingly frustrated with the appearance of part-time employees occupying such important jobs. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, in an appearance on "Pro Football Talk Live," called the situation "madness."