The NFL and the NFL Referees Association have reached an agreement regarding backup crews, a significant step toward bringing regular referees back on the field, an NFLRA source told NFL.com Wednesday.
Enough progress was made during a late-night, early-morning negotiating session, that the possibility of the regular officials coming back for this week's games has been broached, sources on both sides told ESPN.com's Chris Mortensen.
Mortensen further reported that an agreement in principle is close, citing a source familiar to talks. A different league sources told ESPN.com that it would take a week to get the locked-out officials back on the field.
The owners, who previously haven't shown any willingness to give on the referees' benefits issues that led to the lockout, have become more involved in the talks, a source told NFL.com.
"Your loud voices r heard about getting Refs back," Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted. "We're desperately trying 2 get it done! We want a deal that improves officiating overall."
Under the potential agreement, a developmental program will be created as a compromise to the NFL's insistence that 21 officials be added to the current pool of 121 NFLRA members, an NFLRA source told NFL.com, though the money for the existing officials won't increase.
The 21 backup officials won't become members of the NFLRA, but will join a developmental program and be trained to work NFL games. They will be mentored, by NFL crews during the week, but won't work games and won't be eligible to be subbed out.
As the referees improve, they'll be considered for NFLRA membership, with the financial allotment being adjusted to reflect any new members.
The sides agreed that it was crucial to have more qualified refs available when circumstances arise outside of football, such as personal reasons.
The sides haven't yet resolved the issue of referee retirement plans, but an NFLRA source told NFL.com that the officials moved a bit off their position Tuesday.
Owners had sought for all officials to go to a 401(k), and the NFLRA offered to have new officials on such a plan, with existing members grandfathered in under the old pension.
One source told NFL.com that the owners are resisting any further compromises.
---The season-ending knee injury to Darrelle Revis led the Jets to move running back Joe McKnight to cornerback.
Coach Rex Ryan said McKnight will practice almost exclusively at cornerback, a position that isn't entirely foreign to McKnight.
"He'll have a role on offense but we're also teaching him to play corner in almost -- not quite a full-time capacity," Ryan said Wednesday. "But he's going to be over there a ton; in the meetings and everything else
Entering Southern Cal, McKnight was the No. 1 high school recruit in the nation as a running back but also played cornerback. At the time, assistant coach Ken Norton Jr. said McKnight could have been a top draft pick as a defensive back if he wanted to go that route.
Instead, McKnight was a solid if unspectacular running back with the Trojans and has served mostly as a return man for the Jets. He was unable to win the third-down back job this season and fell to third on the depth chart topped by Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell.
The Jets aren't hurting at cornerback -- they'll start a pair of first-round draft picks in Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson -- and McKnight did practice with the defensive backs during preparation for Week 2, which Revis missed recovering from a concussion.
"He's got the speed, the size, the athleticism, the ball skills, everything you look for in a corner. I don't think there's any reason not to think Joe McKnight can be a corner," Ryan said. "It's just going to take time, obviously. But I think with (defensive coaches) Dennis Thurman and with Jimmy (O'Neil) over there I think we've got great teachers of the game and I think it will be interesting. I definitely would not bet against Joe McKnight becoming a good corner."
---Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Mundy was fined $21,000 for his violent hit on Oakland Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, according to an ESPN report.
The fourth-quarter, helmet-to-helmet collision left Heyward-Bey unconscious, until he was lifted onto a stretcher and taken to a local hospital. He was released the next day with a concussion and neck strain. He's expected to make a full recovery.
The injury happened as Heyward-Bey ran across the end zone for a pass from Carson Palmer. Mundy hurled his body and lowered his helmet into Heyward-Bey's facemask.
---"Hot sauce" means different things to New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush.
Ryan told reporters Wednesday that he meant it as a compliment last week when he said his defense needed to "pour hot sauce" on Bush, the Dolphins' leading rusher.
Bush apparently was offended by the remark, and told a South Florida radio station Monday that Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis deserved to get hurt because of Ryan's comments.
Responding to Bush's remarks, Ryan explained that hot sauce comment was meant as, "You have to pour a ton of attention on him."
"He definitely misinterpreted my comment," Ryan said. "Next time we play them (Oct. 28), he's going to get attention from us because he's a great football player. It's almost a compliment that's taken a different way."
Bush was hurt after a second-quarter carry, and didn't return, but it was the actions of Jets players after Bush's injury that prompted speculation that he was targeted by the Jets.
After the game, linebacker Calvin Pace told reporters "we had to put [Bush] out." He tried to clarify those remarks on Monday, insisting there was "no bounty" on Bush and the Jets weren't trying to hurt him.
When news broke that Revis is out for the season with a knee injury, Bush showed no remorse in a radio interview.
"It's like the old saying, 'What goes around comes around,'" Bush told a South Florida radio station. "They talked about all week about putting hot sauce and this and that, and they ended up losing their best player for the rest of the season. So, it's sad that it happened because of that, but I'm going to be back."
---Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw has been cleared to practice this week and is expected to return as the team's starter, according to a New York Daily News report.
This pushes fill-in Andre Brown, who ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns last Thursday against the Carolina Panthers, back to the bench.
Also, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks told the paper that he'll "definitely" play this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles after missing Week 3.
---New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan have been fined by the NFL for their respective actions toward referees during Sunday's games.
Belichick incurred a $50,000 fine for "impermissible physical contact with an official" at the end of Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens. Shanahan received a $25,000 penalty for yelling at officials in the final seconds of the Redskins' 38-31 loss. He then confronted an official in a stadium tunnel after the game.
The fines were announced Wednesday. Neither coach will be suspended.
Belichick grabbed line judge Esteban Garza's arm as he left the field after the Ravens' winning field goal. He later explained that he wanted to know whether the questionable kick, was being reviewed.
Shanahan was cited for unsportsmanlike conduct for hollering at officials in the closing seconds of Sunday's loss, and for the confrontation in the stadium tunnel that followed.
The league also announced Wednesday that Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who was called for unsportsmanlike conduct late in the fourth quarter, wasn't fined. Harbaugh admitted to accidently bumping an official while trying to call time out.
---Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson returned to Bills practice Wednesday, according to the team's Twitter feed.
The extent of his participation wasn't revealed, but it could mean a return to the field for Sunday's game. A lot depends on how Jackson's knee feels Thursday, but he would handle a big load with C.J. Spiller expected to be out with a sore shoulder.
---Center Rodney Hudson was placed on injured reserve by the Kansas City Chiefs with a right knee injury suffered in the second half against New Orleans on Sunday.
Hudson walked off the field to the bench under his own power, but was then taken off the field on a cart.
Offensive linemen Russ Hochstein and Bryan Mattison were signed. A veteran of 138 games, Hochstein has spent time with Denver, New England and Tampa Bay over 10 NFL seasons. Mattison is a center who has played in 15 regular-season games with four starts in two NFL seasons. He was with Baltimore in 2010 and St. Louis last season, and spent two years on the Ravens' practice squad.
When Hudson was injured against the Saints, veteran Ryan Lilja was forced into his first regular-season action at center with rookie Jeff Allen taking over at left guard.
Lilja ended up handling 52 snaps, with 17 of those in the shotgun. He also had his first experience at center in one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL.
But nothing seemed to bother the grizzled veteran Lilja.
"We repped it with crowd noise all week in practice so we were ready for that," said Lilja. "That's why you do it. I'm thankful we did do it. It's something we practice every day; you just never know if and when I'm going to have to do it.
"It was tough seeing Rodney get hurt. It was pretty awkward there at first. I had my share of screw-ups, but we got it figured out."
Just as impressive as Lilja's move to center was the play of second-round draft choice Allen in those 52 snaps. There appeared to be no drop in production and protection with the rookie playing.
---The Titans signed defensive end Pannel Egboh and placed Keyunta Dawson on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.
Dawson left Sunday's overtime victory over Detroit with the injury.
Egboh was on the Titans' practice squad last season and on the 53-man roster to start the 2012 season but was inactive. He was released after the loss to New England.
At 6-6, 288, Egboh can play almost any defensive line position.
---Running back Matt Forte, who sprained his ankle Sept. 13 against the Green Bay Packers, returned to the Chicago Bears practice Wednesday and reportedly plans to play at the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.
"As long as you know how to take care of your body, that's how you get back on the field," he told the Chicago Tribune. "I've had ankle injuries before and I know how to work with them. You have to want to get back on the field."
Forte has missed one game since the injury, last Sunday's 23-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams that improved Chicago to 2-1 for the season.
Michael Bush led the Bears in rushing with 55 yards on 18 carries, including a touchdown. Bears coach Lovie Smith said Forte does not yet have the green light to play.
The Tribune also reported Bush hurt his shoulder in the Rams game and the team has worked out free agent running backs Jacob Hester and Ryan Grant, who signed with the Washington Redskins.
---A Las Vegas casino is offering refunds to bettors who put money on the Green Bay Packers in the controversial Monday Night NFL game.
The D Las Vegas, previously known as Fitzgeralds, announced Wednesday anyone holding a Packers betting ticket in the disputed Seattle Seahawks victory will get their money back.
"I fully understand the importance of the Monday Night Game to our city as well as every Packer supporter across the nation and I just can't accept this outcome," Derek Stevens, the owner of the downtown casino said. "If you're up, you're going to press it and if you're down, it's the bailout play and personally, I've been in each situation. I just can't imagine a worse outcome than what occurred Monday night. I'm so disgusted that we are going to refund every bet made on the Packers at the D. I know exactly how it would feel if I was laying the number and I saw what happened."
Also Wednesday, Sportsbook.com, an online betting website, refunded all Packers bets as site credit.
Replays indicated that Packers cornerback M.D. Jennings had possession of a game-ending pass in the end zone, but referees awarded the catch to Seattle's Golden Tate after the two wrestled for the ball on the turf. One official signaled touchdown, and the other signaled timeout, indicating the play had ended.
The call resulted in an estimated money swing, according to one sports book, of as much as $200 million to $250 million worldwide, ESPN.com reported.
Some estimates from online services believe the impact was even greater. The Packers were 3 1/2-point favorites who would have covered the spread and won by five without the final touchdown.
The call also had an effect on the Packers' Super Bowl odds, raising them at one Las Vegas outlet from 7 to 1 to 9 to 1.