Up to 24 officials to go full time
After years of deliberation and debates, the NFL is going with at least some full-time game officials.
About one-fifth of the 124 officials will be made full-time employees this season, the NFL and NFL Referees Assn. announced Wednesday, with plans to give up to 24 of them that status.
The officials will be able to apply to become full-time employees.
“We believe this is a great development for NFL officiating overall and ultimately the quality of our game,” said Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, in a statement.
“We share a common goal, which is to make our game as great as it can possibly be, and look forward to working together on this new effort.”
Another significant change this season will be that designated members of the NFL’s officiating department will be authorized to make the final decision on replay reviews from league headquarters in New York.
Freeman on board
The Atlanta Falcons addressed their biggest issue coming into training camp. Devonta Freeman has a new contract.
The defending NFC champions agreed to terms on a five-year, $41.25-million extension with Freeman, making him the highest-paid running back in the league in terms of the overall package.
It includes a $15-million signing bonus and $22-million in guaranteed money.
LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills had been the highest-paid running back with a five-year, $40-million deal signed in 2015.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant is a step closer to returning to the league full time.
General manager Kevin Colbert said that Bryant has been cleared to participate in all preseason activities, including practices and games.
He sat out the 2016 season while serving a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy
Watson steals show
Deshaun Watson shined in his NFL preseason debut, completing 15 of 25 passes for 179 yards and running for a touchdown in the Houston Texans’ 27-17 loss to the host Carolina Panthers.
Watson led Clemson to the national championship in January.
Vince Wilfork, a five-time Pro Bowl selection and twotime Super Bowl champion in New England, returned to Gillette Stadium for a ceremony to retire as a Patriot . ... Domestic violence charges against former San Francisco 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock were dropped because of insufficient evidence, prosecutors said.