League has several shoes to fill in the offseason
The Super Bowl is fast fading into the rear view mirror and we now enter what is called the “dark period” in regard to NFL officiating. According to the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association, there is to be no formal contact from the NFL to its officials from following their final game of the season and May 15 of each year. This is done since the officials are classified as part-time employees, and it affords a set time to be uninterrupted at their other jobs.
Even though there is no formal communication taking place, the NFL is making some big decisions about its officiating staff. First of all, the NFL has to hire at least five officials after a string of retirements at the end of the 2013 season. Football Zebras knows of the five who have already announced they are retiring, but there could be more officials who choose to retire as the offseason wears on. The NFL will almost certainly hire some officials who were part of the 21 who trained with crews this preseason under the advanced training program. However, two sources with knowledge of the training program indicated that some of those trainees were not considered ready for a call-up to the pros. Traditionally, the NFL interviews the finalists during February and March and the final hires happen late in March.
Officials also are required to take an annual physical exam in the offseason and send the results to NFL doctors. In the past, the physicals have caught potential problems and forced the end of an officials’ career. Dean Look was forced to retire in 2002 after his physical indicated a heart problem that required a triple-bypass. Bernie Kukar’s career was also cut short due to a failed physical.
One of the most-watched hires this season will be who the NFL hires to replace retired referee Scott Green. This past pre-season, the NFL auditioned four current officials at the referee position. The NFL doesn’t hire officials to head an NFL crew in their first season since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. This will be the first time the NFL has promoted an official to referee since Clete Blakeman donned the white hat in 2010 after Don Carey served as a referee pro tem for one season. (Carey’s one year at referee was to give Blakeman an extra year of NFL experience before becoming referee.)
So a new referee, while not as rare as a papal conclave, is a unique event that bears watching.
Once May 15 rolls around the dark period ends. Dean Blandino, the vice president of officiating, will distribute a memo introducing the new officials and a reminder that as of that date they cannot speak to the media. Included with the memo will be the crew assignments for the upcoming year, new rules and points of emphasis and a rules test that officials submit before the officials’ clinic in July.
Football Zebras will be here in the offseason to report on rule changes, announcements about NFL officiating, and any other interesting information that bears sharing. Be sure to like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @footballzebras to keep up to date with Green offseason news.
Ben Austro contributed to this report.