• There are stringent rules in place for becoming an NFL Referee, including educational qualifications, coaching & playing experience, accreditation, physical & mental readiness.
  • NFL Referee assignments include multiple officiating roles such as: Referee, Umpire, Down Judge, Line Judge, Field Judge, Side Judge, and Back Judge.
  • According to industry sources, the average annual NFL Referee salary was $205,000 in 2019. This includes 401(k) contributions, and bonuses.

Imagine a career as an NFL referee? It's a dream come true for ardent football fans, and it's the subject we're going to tackle in today's article.

Get comfy, we are about to go behind-the-scenes to bring you the scoop regarding NFL referee salaries, and the pay structure for NFL game officials.

NFL Referee Salary - Guide:

We’re taking you on a whirlwind tour through the wonderful world of NFL refereeing and officiating. While we’re at it, check out our NFL odds and make your play today!

How To Become An NFL Referee

NFL referees operate at the highest level of football. There are no two ways about it – you need plenty of experience to officiate an NFL game.

To begin with, contenders for this position are required to have a high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree, and 10 years of football officiating experience. At least 5 of those 10 years must be spent officiating high-level college football games.

In order to be hired as an NFL referee, contenders must be in peak physical condition, with tremendous football experience as a coach, or a player, and membership of an accredited Football Association.

Beyond the educational and coaching experience requirements, contenders for NFL referee positions must be able to meet the training requirements of the job, the mental demands of the job, and the physical demands of the job.

As the ultimate authority for NFL games, and NFL referee must be able to accurately interpret the rules of the game, maintain close control over the action on the gridiron, and be reactive to rule transgressions.

As a referee, you need to take your position seriously, even during the light-hearted moments on the field.

NFL referees are responsible for ensuring seamless gameplay on the gridiron. Objectivity and fairness are required when making decisions.

Plus, referees must be able to anticipate plays well in advance. As such, NFL referees must position themselves where the action is, so that they have the best possible view of proceedings.

If any regulations have been flouted, NFL referees must act decisively. Further, NFL referees must be able to assess the situation and give appropriate signals.

Whenever appropriate, referees are also required to announce penalties. If you're looking to win a popularity contest, being an NFL referee isn't the direction you want to go.

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NFL Referee Assignments:

In football, there are plenty of officials on the field of play. Let's take a look at all of the available NFL referee assignments:

  • Back Judge – The Back Judge is 25 yards behind the line of scrimmage, within the defensive backfield. This judge keeps track of the time, television breaks, and keeps account of the number of defensive players, tight ends and other players on the end of the lines. The back judge has special assignments vis-a-vis pass plays, run plays, and special teams.

  • Side Judge – The Side Judge is located 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage, in the defensive backfield. This judge signals to the NFL referee when the time expires for each of the quarters. The side judge also counts the number of defensive players. The side judge has special assignments vis-a-vis pass plays, run plays, and special teams.

  • Field Judge - The Field Judge is positioned 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage, in the defensive backfield. This judge is responsible for counting the defensive players, as well as watching the defensive backs and the wide receivers on the near side of the field. The field judge has special assignments vis-a-vis pass plays, run plays, and special teams.

  • Down Judge – The Down Judge is lined up on the sideline, and faces the line of scrimmage, to direct the chaincrew, and inform the NFL referee of the down, as well as the rules on sideline that are taking place on the nearest half of the gridiron.

  • Line Judge – The Line Judge is positioned on the sideline, opposite to the Down Judge, and looking squarely down the line of scrimmage. The line judge watches for encroachment and offside, keeps an eye on blockers, defenders, passers, and keeps an eye out for other transgressions.

  • The Umpire – the umpire lines up alongside the NFL referee, approximately 10-12 yards behind the line of scrimmage, located in the offensive backfield. The umpire's duty is to watch for blocking fouls and holding. The umpire is also tasked with other duties such as marking penalty yardage, counting offensive players, and checking player equipment.

How Much Money Do NFL Referees Make?

Truth be told, the ‘official status’ regarding NFL referee salaries remains undisclosed. Fortunately, we can rely on other resources such as the expired NFL CBAs (Collective Bargaining Agreements) for greater clarity.

Based on recent data, the average NFL referee salary in 2019 was $205,000, up substantially from an average of $149,000 around 2011.

Thanks largely to increased 401(k) contributions ($18,000 annual limit), and higher pay checks, NFL referee salaries are rising fast. NFL referees are paid a base salary + specified sum for each game that they officiate.

Stats from ‘Money’ indicate that NFL referees make an average of $205,000 per season + bonuses from postseason games. The Super Bowl – the creme de la creme of the NFL – can net an NFL referee $11,900 +.

Female NFL Referees:

Would you believe that in 2020, there is only one full-time NFL female referee? Her name is Sarah Thomas. She was hired in 2015, and she became a legendary figure in football circles as the only full-time NFL female official.

The majority of NFL referees are only employed part-time, given the seasonal nature of football. Other notable NFL referees include the likes of Shannon Easton who served as a line judge during the 2012 NFL Referees Association lockout.

Sarah Thomas has an impressive officiating record, dating back to 13 September 2015 when she officiated her first game as a line judge between the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Clearly, there is room for plenty of growth in terms of appointing female NFL referees. Trailblazers like Sarah Thomas have set a high standard and a slew of other female referees are likely to come through the ranks!

We love this game! Come check out our football tips at the 888sport blog and enjoy behind-the-scenes coverage from the experts, on and off the field of play.

*Credit for the main photo belongs to Jennifer Stewart / AP Photo*


FIRST PUBLISHED: 3rd January 2021

About the Author
Brett Chatz

Brett is an internationally published sports journalist, political analyst, and medical fiction author. His commentary is seen in The Star, The Citizen, Tampa Bay Times, The Street, The Sowetan, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Independent, and across hundreds of online and print media platforms. He is the author of ‘Cricket Chatz’ and the highly-acclaimed, ‘Serum’. 

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