EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- So it wasn't an epic. The Patriots preseason finalecould be the most forgettable, unwatchable game I've covered since being fortunate enough to get a job covering the NFL in 1997. So we'll stay off the game-specific stuff for the most part as we tidy up and look ahead. Yes, the replacement referees are embarrassingly bad. And I don't feel sympathywhen they look silly. They put themselves in a position to look dumb by climbing in bed with a partner -- the NFL -- who is going to ride them hard and put them away when this impasse is done. There may be some individual dynamics at play but it doesn't seem a leap to presume the replacement refs are doing it for the money and to advance their careers. So they can take the chants of "We want Hochuli!" and "Scab!" -- which they were showered with Wednesday night as they left the field -- and realize they signed up for it. But the locked-out officials -- to the surprise of many, I'm sure -- deserve a lot of blame for the present situation. I know the NFL's a cutthroat, monolith that greedily sucks up every penny it can find to add to the stack of billions it already generates. But the officials are turning their noses up to an offer that raises the average official's salary from 149,000 currently (!) to 189,000 by 2018. The average starting salary will go from a modest 78,000 in 2011 up to 165K in 2018. The officials don't want their benefits from the part-time job converted into 401K. And they don't like the idea of the league expanding its bench, so to speak, by hiring officials that could be summoned to replace a guy who sucks. Right now, the real refs are winning because the issue manifests itself to fans and most of the media as replacements screwing up the game. And that typhoon of outrage may force the NFL to just say, "Whatever..." and pay them. But don't be misled by the fact the NFL usually wears the black hat in negotiations. In this one, the refs are the ones trying to carry out a stickup. (Great post by Florio on this right here.) I lampooned the speech of the head referee, Don King, on Twitter. Kind of a low-rent move in hindsight. Wish I had foresight to edit that stupidity. It was a cheap, immature way to try and get alaugh and I feelbadly about it. One last thing, as he was leaving the field Wednesday night, Scott Zolak predicted that, against the Titans, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels will try to take advantage of the officials by going extreme up-tempo. Hadn't thought that far ahead myself. He's exactly right. But here's where it gets interesting. The officials will stand over the ball until they are ready for it to be snapped. In 2010, we saw the issues that arose when the league moved the umpire from the linebacker level to 12 yards off the line of scrimmage in the offensive backfield. The umpire has to get the ball after each play, spot it correctly and get the hell out of the way. When the head linesman signals, the ball can be snapped. The real refs struggled to keep up.The new guys? Seriously? And that's where the replacement referees will start to impact game plans. If the Patriots are stymied from going no-huddlehurryup by the incompetence of the replacement referees, Bill Belichick will blow a gasket. And,gasket blown, he may not choose to to defer to Mike Pereira's comments on the replacement refs but offer some of his own. Which courts incurring the Wrath of Kraft since coaches are under orders to keep their lips shut on the matter. This is a perfect example of NFL and owner business infringing on the vocation the coaches and players hold sacred. And that's where this will get interesting.
Jae Crowder, Gigi Datome, Jonas Jerebko and Brandon Bass are entering free agency. Which players should the Celtics keep around?