NEW YORK - The NFL's locked-out officials made a last-minute offer to work this season with a no-strike guarantee if their salary dispute was submitted to binding arbitration after the Super Bowl.
The NFL rejected the offer, submitted Thursday, just before it said that replacement officials would work this weekend's opening games.
"We proposed a no-strike, no-lockout agreement before the lockout and they rejected it," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "We're now in a lockout. The ship has sailed."
Under the plan submitted by the NFL Referees Association, the regular officials would have worked this season under their old contract. If no agreement was reached before the end of the season, the dispute would go to a federal mediator.
"It's unbelievable," Tom Condon, the officials' negotiator, said in a statement released Friday by International Management Group, the agency for which he works. "But I guess I wouldn't want an impartial third party if I were the NFL, either."
Aiello said, however, that he knows of no case in sports where arbitration was used before a contract was agreed upon. "Arbitration is for settling disputes after there is a collective bargaining agreement," he said.
The two sides remain far apart in a battle that's almost entirely over pay.
The replacement officials are being paid $2,000 per game and are guaranteed four weeks, which would take them through the third week of the season.
There are no talks scheduled right now, but Condon and Jeff Pash, the chief negotiator for the league, are expected to stay in touch by phone during the weekend.
To get the regulars back next week, there would probably have to be an agreement by Thursday, which was the league's deadline this week in order to give whichever officials work the game time to make travel plans.
BILLS: Andre Reed, Buffalo's leading career receiver and a key member of the four Bills teams that went to four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s, has called a news conference for today where he is expected to announce his retirement.
The news conference is scheduled for noon at the Bills' headquarters in Orchard Park.
A team spokesman declined comment but it is expected Reed, who hasn't played since being placed on injured reserve by Washington in December, will follow the lead of running back Thurman Thomas and retire as a member of the Bills.
Steve Christie didn't kick in practice Friday for the third consecutive day, but the Buffalo Bills will wait until today to decide whether their leading career scorer will play in the season opener.
Christie strained his right groin muscle Wednesday.
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