NEW YORK — Less than three weeks before the season kicks off, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association are no closer to an agreement to end the lockout of the officials.
As replacement officials work preseason games — and generally get criticized for their performances — the league and officials Thursday disputed such issues as full-time employees and adding officiating crews.
On Sept. 5, the Cowboys visit the Giants to open the season. Not since 2001 has the NFL played games that count in the standings with replacement officials, and that was for one week. This lockout began June 3.
The NFL is offering to add three full officiating crews, increasing the total number of officials to 140. League spokesman Greg Aiello said "this would reduce stress on the officials by allowing each official to work fewer games, would reduce travel, would allow us to do more intensive training, integrate younger officials more effectively, increase diversity, and improve quality of officiating."
"The union flatly opposes this proposal ..." Aiello added.
But the NFLRA insists the compensation being offered with such an increase would reduce their pay.
NFL FILES EVIDENCE IN VILMA CASE: The NFL on Thursday provided a federal judge with what it says is evidence Commissioner Roger Goodell did not improperly pre-judge the four players suspended in the bounty investigation.
The evidence includes a copy of a letter the NFL Players Association sent the league on March 7 asking Goodell to delay punishment of players implicated in the bounty probe.
It also includes a sworn declaration from Goodell in which he states he was prepared to hand down player discipline at the same time he announced suspensions for coaches and executives on March 21. Goodell's declaration states he held off after verbally agreeing to do so in a phone conversation with union head DeMaurice Smith.
Attorneys for Jonathan Vilma, who has sued separately, and NFLPA lawyers representing the three other punished players have argued Goodell showed improper bias with comments he made before sending the players notice of their suspensions on May 2.
OWENS TO PLAY AGAINST BRONCOS: Peyton Manning's debut in Denver won't hog all the attention. Terrell Owens will be taking some himself.
Owens will make his return to the NFL when the Seattle Seahawks play the Broncos on Saturday night. Seattle coach Pete Carroll didn't give specifics on how many snaps Owens will get in the second preseason game for the Seahawks, but he did say it would be early in the game.
Owens joined the Seahawks on Aug. 6 and had just a couple of days of practice before the preseason opener against Tennessee. Carroll said he didn't think it was fair to run Owens out there that quickly, but feels he's ready after two weeks of work.
Owens arrived in camp in excellent shape and has looked impressive at times during practice. But if he's to make the Seahawks' final roster, Owens will need to show in a game that he's fully recovered from a knee injury that kept him out of the NFL for the entire 2011 season.
URLACHER DISCUSSES KNEE SURGERY: Expect to see Brian Urlacher on the field for the Chicago Bears' season opener.
None other than Urlacher says so.
The middle linebacker underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee Tuesday morning. He spoke Thursday for the first time since before the decision was made to have the surgery. He first injured the knee Jan. 1 in the regular-season finale against Minnesota and tried to rehab it without surgery.
The 34-year-old, eight-time Pro Bowl player never had any type of knee surgery until Tuesday.
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