The revolving door in the NFL officiating department appears to still be in motion.
Football Zebras has learned from multiple sources that field judge Jon Lucivansky will not return in the 2018 season. Lucivansky just finished his ninth season, but he has been in a bit of a playoff drought; the last postseason play he officiated was Jermaine Kearse’s touchdown as the Seahawks beat the Packers in overtime to advance to the Super Bowl, which seems like ancient history by now. It is a precipitous drop for Lucivansky, who, up to that point, qualified for a postseason assignment in every year he was eligible. And it isn’t often that an official works a championship game and then drops out of future postseasons, unless there is an injury involved.
This may not be an isolated case. According an official who attended the annual meeting of the NFL Referees Association, “there could be more coming by May 15th,” referring to the date that officials can be contacted by the league office following a “dark period” from their last 2017 assignment. (This offseason all of the newly designated full-time officials maintain contact with the officiating department.) This formally opens the 2018 season for officials.
The NFLRA, the officials union, announced in March that 6 on-field officials and a replay official were retiring. One retirement seemed out of place, four-year veteran Ed Walker, but his career was cut short not because of performance, but due to a 2016 injury from which he never recovered. All the other departures were after a long career in the NFL, so any departures at this point could point to a performance issue, while not discounting injuries, health issues, or late retirement decisions.
If there are still some officials about to depart due to performance, it comes at a historically key moment. This is the first offseason under senior vice-president of officiating Al Riveron, who entered the role at this time last year. Notably, his predecessor Dean Blandino had a tremendous turnover following his first year at the head of the department, when 13 officials retired, resigned, or were given a dignified departure. When Mike Pereira headed the department, he fired 8 officials heading into his second season. However, because of a grievance from the union, those 8 officials were reinstated as on-field officials or replay officials, despite all having received written warnings in the preceding season.
The officiating department carried a bench of 5 swing officials that subbed into a different crew each week. That is more than typical, so that number could be reduced without making additional hires. But, since the league may introduce an eighth official as early as next year, that is likely to remain as it could reduce the number of rookie hires needed.