The long, somewhat-overblown national nightmare that's been the referee lockout appears headed to a conclusion. A deal to get the regular referees back is on the horizon, as CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman confirms a tentative deal between the NFL and locked-out officials.
There's no signed agreement but a variety of sources tell Freeman a deal is so close that locked out officials and the NFL could have something permanent in place by the end of the week. Significant progress was made during the past 24 hours.
NFL Referees Association negotiator Scott Green has told officials a deal likely won't happen today, a source tells Freeman, but Freeman was also told Green said a deal is extremely close, possibly being consummating by the end of the week.
Some of this is posturing by both sides. Neither side wants the other to think they've caved despite this progress. The bottom line is this: the economic divide between the locked out officials and the NFL has been significantly bridged. Most of the major financials have been bridged. There remain issues with the pension plan, still, but there's a feeling even this can be overcome quickly.
Chris Mortensen of ESPN originally reported that an "agreement in principle is at hand," though Freeman reports that it is unlikely that the officials will be on the field for Week 4 games.
Freeman reported earlier on Wednesday that the NFL and NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) agreed on a mentoring/training program that would create a larger pool of potential referees to replace struggling guys on the field.
Those retirement benefits, currently (formerly?) in the form of pensions, remain the sticking point in negotiations between the two sides, however, with the two sides trying to bridge the gap to a middle point.
But lest you're skeptical that the league isn't working towards getting something done quickly, Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted (of course) confirmation that the two sides were working on a deal.
That should sit well with the rest of the owners.
Not that it can get too much worse for the NFL: Monday night's debacle between the Seahawks and Packers ramped up the national coverage of the replacement ref issue, with even Ellen jumping into the fray on Wednesday morning.