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Notes: The future of NFL officiating may be even bleaker

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A veteran ESPN writer offered thoughts on the zebras heading into the new year.

Detroit Lions v Washington Redskins Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

After numerous high profile officiating mistakes during the regular season, the league has already been embarrassed a few times during the playoffs. The most egregious was probably the kickoff “return” touchdown that was not awarded to the Bills, who ended up losing their Wild Card game in overtime by three points. Whether you believed the ruling was correct or not, it sure looked bad at the time. ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, who Lions fans may remember was an NFC blogger at the worldwide leader for a long time, set down some thoughts about “What went wrong with NFL officiating in 2019 ... and what comes next?

As expected, there is a bunch of stuff about better training and some discussion of league leadership changes in officiating, and also the big black eye of the season: reviewable pass interference. But buried at the bottom of the improved training section of the article was this nugget spotted by our fearless leader:

One of the items Seifert covered in his article was the fact that the recently signed collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association included a one-time enhanced severance package designed to induce older referees to retire in 2020 prior to the start of next season. Seifert previously wrote about this in October 2019, and at the time he identified “23 officials on the NFL’s public roster with at least 20 years of experience, roughly 20% of the staff” who would qualify.

The point of the one-time benefit? According to the October article, “(t)he incentive will give the NFL earlier clarity for offseason hiring, and it could also accelerate an ongoing shift toward younger officials. Currently, (NFLRA executive director Scott Green) said, nearly half of the 122-person staff has four or fewer years of experience in the NFL.“ In spite of concerns about getting the younger cohorts up to speed, though, the league decided not to entertain the idea of making their officiating crews full-time employees for this recent CBA.

In the new article that went up yesterday, Seifert seems to indicate that officials could still serve as officials in the 2020 season and take the one-time enhanced severance afterwards as long as they gave early notice: “As many as 20 would be eligible for the same benefit after the 2020 season if they notify the NFL by this March.”

What effect would such a shift in the age structure have on officiating quality? Hard to tell since there is a trade-off of experience (older officials) for better ability to keep up with the action (younger officials) as some of the longtime veterans have “aged and their ability to process has slowed.” In the end, it probably will not make too much of a difference for Detroit, if you know what I mean.

And now, on to the rest of today’s Notes:

  • According to Dave Birkett at the Detroit Free Press, Lions running back Bo Scarbrough is finishing his degree at the University of Alabama this offseason.

  • Yesterday, we saw Ben Raven at MLive go down the list of Wolverines who could be targets for the Lions in the upcoming draft. Today it was time to look at Spartans who fit the needs of the team, including a cornerback who should be available after the first round in case they decide not to draft that Ohio State guy at third overall.

  • Kyle Meinke of MLive is doing position reviews for the 2019 Detroit Lions season. For the quarterbacking situation, he believes it was a split between Matthew Stafford and “everybody else.”

  • Meanwhile, Tim Twentyman at the official team site is on running backs in his 2019 position reviews, a position group that churned through a lot of names during the season.

  • Craig Mauger at the Detroit News noted that Michigan is one of just three states with legalized sports betting to have an “official league data” requirement. That means the outcomes of wagers placed with Michigan operators are determined using official statistics sold to them by the professional leagues themselves (like the NFL) instead of third-party services. Although it guarantees consistency, this also creates another monopoly by definition (and provides certainty to the monopoly holder, which can be important).

  • Guess who predicted the emergence of the LJ Era (no, not The Hair):

  • The Lions are running a contest to determine the Dan Miller call of the year for 2019. If you go over and vote for one of the five candidate calls, you will be entered for a chance to attend the team’s draft party. Normally, I would say “why would anyone want to relive any of this,” but the awesomeness of Dan Miller overcomes.

  • Although he is not coaching for the Lions, you can read about Dearborn native Robert Saleh in a nice feature by the Detroit News’ John Niyo. Saleh is the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers and a name that has appeared in numerous head coaching job search discussions.