Mike Freeman of CBS Sports reported today the NFL sent a memo around to all 32 teams that the regular season will kick off next Wednesday with replacement officials. Apparently the league was not deterred by NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith's threat that the players might strike as a safety issue if the season began with the replacements.
The NFL's memo of course doesn't mean the season actually will start with replacement officials. Giving Freeman a copy of the memo guaranteed that it would become publicly available (and other reporters, such as Albert Breer and Ian Rapoport, quickly followed). Bold positions, sincerely held or mere bluffs, are a common part of negotiations, as we all experienced during last summer's lockout.
That the NFL is willing to hold firm is not a surprise; the wagering site Bovada.lv put the odds of replacement officials working at least one game Week 1 at -300 Yes/+200 No at the beginning of this month. Contrary to Roger Goodell's normally media-friendly approach, the league is now digging in its heels, refusing to make real but in the scale of all league operations very modest concessions and running the risk that inexperienced officials who don't know well the precise details of the NFL's rulebook who aren't used to working together as a crew will make for interminably long, poorly-managed games or, even worse, legitimate feelings among NFL fanbases that officiating screwups cost their team a win they rightly earned on the field.
At least until the replacement officials' miscues start to affect the outcome of games, though, the NFL seems to be sticking to its guns.