NEW YORK — The NFL's regular officiating crews are back. Their return couldn't have come soon enough for many players, coaches and fans.
After two days of marathon negotiations — and mounting frustration across the league and among its fans — the NFL and the officials' union announced at midnight Thursday that a tentative eight-year agreement had been reached to end a lockout that began in June.
The deal follows Seattle's chaotic last-second win over Green Bay on Monday night in which the replacement officials struggled. Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was at the bargaining table Tuesday and Wednesday, said the regular officials would work the Browns-Ravens game at Baltimore on Thursday night.
"We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week's games," NFL Referees Association President Scott Green said.
The players' union is happy to have them.
"Our workplace is safer with the return of our professional referees," the NFLPA said in a statement Thursday. "We welcome our fellow union members back on our field."
Plenty of players chimed in, too.
"Never thought I would be excited for the refs to come back to work but it's about time it was definitely necessary!" Cleveland return specialist Josh Cribbs tweeted Thursday morning.
Added Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe: "It was a noble experiment, but I think ultimately a failed experiment, from what we've seen. It'll be good not to have to worry about that when we're on the field. It's good that it won't be a distraction anymore."
Shortly after the news broke, Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller tweeted, "Welcome back REFS."
The tentative deal must be ratified by 51 percent of the union's 121 members. They plan to vote Friday and Saturday in Dallas.