Football Zebras has learned that officials Ruben Fowler, Tom Symonette and Bart Longson will not return to the National Football League in the 2021 season. The NFL typically does not announce why an official is leaving the league, although it does. is most often characterized as a retirement, even involuntary.
The league has yet to announce any departures, but hiring has already started for the 2021 season. The final roster is usually released in May.
Longson leaves the NFL after six seasons. The linesman was part of Tony Corrente’s crew for 2020. In six seasons he has had three assignments: a substitute, a wild card and a divisional.
He worked the wild card this most recent season, so he noted well. We don’t know why he left the league, but we were told it was a voluntary retirement. It will be interesting to see if he returns to the college ranks to officiate.
Tom Symonette is leaving the NFL after 17 seasons. Last year he was a linesman on John Hussey’s crew.
In her 17 seasons, Symonette has built an impressive playoff resume. He worked a total of 10 field missions: five wild cards, three divisions, a conference championship and Super Bowl XLVIII. However, his last playoff assignment (on the pitch or on the pitch) was in 2017.
Symonette is the current Division II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference officials coordinator.
Ruben Fowler is leaving the NFL after 15 seasons. He served last year as a referee in Craig Wrolstad’s crew.
In 15 seasons, Fowler played a total of eight playoff games: two wild cards, four divisions and two conference championships. His last playoff assignment was the acting Super Bowl LII referee. Fowler’s last playoff assignment on the field was in the 2014 divisional round.
More decisions to come
In addition to the three retirements, other officials could weigh their options. Five field officials and two replay officials withdrew due to covid-19 last season. The NFL assured those officials they had a spot on the roster for 2021 without penalty. Will these officials return for 2021? Or, has a season without football washed the passion for officiating out of their system? It should be noted that one of those opt-outs was Joe Larrew, who managed to push for his job back when he appealed his dismissal.
Base judge Gary Arthur hasn’t opted out this season, but he hasn’t worked any games due to injury. We don’t know what the recovery circumstances are surrounding the veteran official, but we’ll see if he returns. Arthur was seriously injured in a collision during a punt return in 2015, putting him on the sidelines for several months.
The NFL may or may not hire more officials after Maia Chaka. It depends on how many covid-19 churns come back or decide to retire.
We congratulate Tom Symonette, Ruben Fowler and Bart Longson for officiating at a level we all dream of. And we wish them the best in their future endeavors.
Photos: Ben Liebenberg / NFL, Denver Broncos photo, Donn Jones / Tennesee Titans, Miami Dolphins photo