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A deal is reached: The real referees are back!

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A deal is reached: The real referees are back!

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- The NFL and the referees' union reached a tentative contract agreement at midnight Thursday, ending an impasse that began in June when the league locked out the officials and used replacements instead."Our officials will be back on the field starting tomorrow night" for the Cleveland-Baltimore game, Commissioner Roger Goodell said after a day of marathon negotiations.With Goodell at the table, the sides concluded two days of talks with the announcement of a tentative eight-year deal, which must be ratified by 51 percent of the union's 121 members. They plan to vote Friday."Welcome back REFS," Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller tweeted.The replacements worked the first three weeks of games, triggering a wave of frustration that threatened to disrupt the rest of the season. After a missed call cost the Green Bay Packers a win on a chaotic final play at Seattle on Monday night, the two sides really got serious."We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week's games," referees' union president Scott Green said.The union was seeking improved salaries, retirement benefits and other logistical issues for the part-time officials. The NFL has proposed a pension freeze and a higher 401(k) match, and it wants to hire 21 more officials to improve the quality of officiating. The union has fought that, fearing it could lead to a loss of jobs for some of the current officials, as well as a reduction in overall compensation.The NFL claimed its offers have included annual pay increases that could earn an experienced official more than 200,000 annually by 2018. The NFLRA has disputed the value of the proposal, insisting it means an overall reduction in compensation.Replacement refs aren't new to the NFL. They worked the first week of games in 2001 before a deal was reached. But those officials came from the highest level of college football; the current replacements do not. Their ability to call fast-moving NFL games drew mounting criticism through Week 3, climaxing last weekend, when ESPN analyst Jon Gruden called their work "tragic and comical."Those comments came during "Monday Night Football," with Seattle beating Green Bay 14-12 on a desperation pass into the end zone on the final play. Packers safety M.D. Jennings had both hands on the ball in the end zone, and when he fell to the ground in a scrum, both Jennings and Seahawks receiver Golden Tate had their arms on the ball.The closest official to the play, at the back of the end zone, signaled for the clock to stop, while another official at the sideline ran in and then signaled touchdown.The NFL said in a statement Tuesday that the touchdown pass should not have been overturned -- but acknowledged Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference before the catch. The league also said there was no indisputable evidence to reverse the call made on the field.That drew even louder howls of outrage. Some coaches, including Miami's Joe Philbin and Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, tried to restore some calm by instructing players not to speak publicly on the issue.Fines against two coaches for incidents involving the replacements were handed out Wednesday.New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was docked 50,000 for trying to grab an official's arm Sunday to ask for an explanation of a call after his team lost at Baltimore. And Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was tagged for 25,000 for what the league called "abuse of officials" in the Redskins' loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. Two other coaches, Denver's John Fox and assistant Jack Del Rio, were fined Monday for incidents involving the replacements the previous week."I accept the discipline and I apologize for the incident," Belichick said.Players were in no mood for apologies from anyone."I'll probably get in trouble for this, but you have to have competent people," Carolina receiver Steve Smith said. "And if you're incompetent, get them out of there."Added Rams quarterback Sam Bradford: "I just don't think it's fair to the fans, I don't think it's fair to us as players to go out there and have to deal with that week in and week out. I really hope that they're as close as they say they are."They were. Finally.

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Wizards vs. Sixers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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Wizards vs. Sixers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick and the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 7 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Another test

The Wizards continue their difficult stretch coming out of the All-Star break against a very dangerous Sixers team. Philly has proven to be very streaky this season, but right now they are rolling. They come to Washington having won their last seven games dating back to Feb. 6 when they beat the Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center. The Wizards are also playing well, having won eight of their last 11, despite their loss to the Hornets on Friday.

The Sixers are currently seventh in the East and appear on track to make the playoffs. If they keep rising the standings, they could meet the Wizards, who are currently fourth, in the first round. 

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

Season series

Speaking of the playoffs, this game could end up looming large for postseason seeding. The Sixers have won two of the three matchups between these teams this year. If they win on Sunday, they will take the season series and own the tiebreaker over Washington.

If the two teams tie head-to-head and end up with the same record at the end of the season, it will then come down to conference record. The Sixers currently have a better record against East teams than the Wizards. But if they can beat Philly this time, the Wizards will have a chance to secure the conference tiebreaker down the stretch of this season.

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

Sixers are tough to guard

The Wizards have found out the hard way this season just how difficult it can be to match up with the Sixers, who are led by two emerging stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Embiid is 7-foot-1 with rare abilities to stretch the floor and beat opponents off the dribble. Simmons is 6-foot-10, yet can lead the fastbreak with rare speed and vision to find his teammates with crisp passes.

The mobility for their size is almost unmatched and it has not been easy for the Wizards to answer. In their last meeting earlier this month, Simmons had 15 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. Embiid had 27 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. The Wizards have to try to limit those guys while also dealing with other challenges like Robert Covington, Dario Saric and J.J. Reddick.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKING

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Need to Know: Five Redskins who must step up in 2018

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Need to Know: Five Redskins who must step up in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 25, 17 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

Five Redskins who will have to step up in 2018

Originally published 12/26/17

WR Josh Doctson—This list is in no particular order but if it was, Doctson would be right here at the top. The watchword for Doctson is consistency. He makes some incredible catches and then there are throws that he drops or doesn’t quite seem to make enough of an effort to catch. There is promise there. The first-round pick has shown his ability and his teammates say he has a chance to be elite. But the potential must translate into production on the field, week in and week out.  

RB Samaje Perine—There is plenty of chatter about the Redskins’ need to sign or draft a top running back. But a look at this team’s recent history tells us that they are unlikely to invest major assets in the position. That means that Perine, a fourth-round pick in 2017, will have to become a more consistent runner. It’s not all his fault that he hasn’t done much since he had back-to-back 100-yard games in Weeks 11-12; tough defense, offensive line issues, and game score situations have slowed his production. But he needs to be consistently productive in 2018 no matter who he lines up against.

CB Josh Norman—Unless he gets a pick against the Giants, he will go through the year without any interceptions. Sure, they don’t throw his way all that often and INT’s don’t give you the complete picture of his play. But a CB taking up $20 million in cap room needs to get a couple of picks almost by sheer accident. Norman battled some injury problems and if he wants to justify the final two years and $23 million of salary remaining on his contract, his age 30 2018 season needs to be more impactful.

OLB Preston Smith—The third-year player started strong, with at least half a sack in the first five games. And he’s finishing strong, with three sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble in the last two games. But in between, he had a total of just half a sack in eight games. This follows the pattern he displayed his first two years in the league of being dominant in some games and invisible in others. If he can develop some consistency in his 2018 contract year, he could cash in huge in free agency the following year.

Head coach Jay Gruden—Normally I only include players on lists like this one but if Gruden doesn’t do something to get the Redskins out of their near-.500 rut then nothing else will matter. He needs to change up something, whether it’s pushing the players hard in training camp or perhaps fine tuning his friendly approach to the players. Sure, better luck regarding injuries and a schedule that right now appears to be a bit less challenging will help. But Gruden needs to look at what he can change, too.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 4
—NFL Draft (4/26) 60
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 196