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Answer Man, Series 6, Vol. 5

Posted Apr 10, 2010

The Buc fans' inside source returns with another lengthy Q&A, this one touching on such subjects as intra-division scheduling, the history of team G.M.s, expansion guidelines, pre-draft signings and more

 

There's a good chance the NFL's 2010 schedule will drop next week; last year, it was revealed on April 14, a Tuesday. Perhaps they'll hit Thursday instead next week, giving us all a little gift to offset the potential pains of Tax Day.

The Answer Man is even more excited to see the sked this year than usual, because there's a possibility the league will follow through on the idea of scheduling all intra-division games for Week 17.

I don't know about you folks, but I really like that idea.I'm betting it is adopted, whether it be this year or in the future.Other than potentially increasing the level of difficulty for the actual schedule-makers (fine people, I'm sure, but they always make us wait until April, for goodness sake!), I just don't see the downside.

The idea was floated as a possible cure for the "problem" of teams resting their starters in the last week or two if they have nothing to gain from winning. Last year, it was the Indianapolis Colts at the eye of that storm; the Bucs have been in that position from time to time, too, most recently in 2007.

I put "problem" in quotation marks because, frankly, the Answer Man isn't particularly bothered by this issue, even as it relates to the fantasy league I'm in with a bunch of my fellow pirates. I've always been of the opinion that if you've played so well the rest of the season to open a big lead in the end, you should be able to use that advantage however you want. Now, do I think it's a good idea to rest your starters in Week 17?Not really; momentum seems like a real factor to me. But it certainly is your right.

Besides, playing an opponent within your division in Week 17 doesn't guarantee that game will be meaningful. Indy had a six-game lead in the AFC South standings heading into the season finale last year, so even if the second-place Houston Texans were in town it wouldn't have made the game any more critical to the Colts.

I suppose the league is hoping that such scheduling will ease the problem in a more indirect way.That is, Indy would have had less of an opportunity to pull away from Houston in Weeks 1-16 if they had only played them once.As an example, when the Buccaneers beat second-place New Orleans in Week 13 of that 2007 season, that victory all but sealed the division title for Tampa Bay.It gave the Buccaneers a four-game lead over the Saints with four games to play, which meant the Bucs needed to win only one of their last four or have the Saints lose once to clinch the division.The Bucs lost three of the remaining four games, including the last two after they clinched in Week 15.Had that Saints game been in Week 17, the division race might have remained in question throughout December.

But forget whether or not this scheduling idea is a "cure" for any problem.The Answer Man likes it simply because it increases the likelihood of those awesome winner-take-all games in the final weekend.Let's face it: Most division-winners don't go into the last weekend with six-game leads.Last year, four of the eight divisions were decided by either one game in the standings or a tiebreaker.Another one was decided by two games, and any intra-division game is in a sense a two-game swing.In 2008, six of the eight divisions were decided by one game or a tiebreaker.

Remember last year when Philly went to Dallas with the NFC East title on the line in Week 17?That was clearly the best game on the docket that weekend, right (though not, in the end, the most exciting, as Dallas blanked 'em, 24-0)?What if there was the possibility of three or four such games, every year?Yes please, I say.

And because I can't help crunching the numbers, here's a little bit of relatable Buccaneer history.Over their first 34 seasons, the Bucs ended the season with a game against a division foe on 15 occasions, the first time in 1980 and the most recent just this past year.For some reason, five of those 15 times were against the Chicago Bears, but none were against the Minnesota Vikings.It should be noted that the likelihood of such intra-division games at the end was a bit higher when Tampa Bay was in a five-team division (the NFC Central) and thus had 10 division games every year instead of the current eight.

The intra-division finale didn't really matter to the Buccaneers in 1980, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2007 (even though the Bucs made the playoffs) or 2009.However, they were huge in 1981, 1982, 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2005.Of all those, only the 2000 game didn't go the Buccaneers' way.

With apologies to 1999 (sorry, Prince), the 1981 finale probably remains the most exciting one on this list.The situation was rich in tension - the winner between the Bucs and Lions would take the division title and the loser would be out of the playoffs completely.And the game itself lived up to the scenario, with Tampa Bay holding on for a 20-17 win in Detroit.

The 1982 season was shortened to nine games by a player's strike, and when the league resumed play it announced an altered playoff format in which the divisions were erased and the top eight teams in each conference would make the playoffs.The Bucs had to win their season finale at home against Chicago in order to get to a 5-4 record and make the playoffs.Detroit actually took the eighth seed with a 4-5 mark, but the Bucs would have lost out to several other teams on tiebreakers if they had finished 4-5.Tampa Bay once again pulled it out, 26-23, this time in overtime as the Bucs rallied from a 23-7 halftime deficit.

The 1997 Buccaneers went into December in good shape with an 9-5 record but then dropped games against the Packers and Jets in Weeks 15 and 16.That left them needing a win at home against Chicago in the final week to clinch their first playoff berth in 15 years.A win was somewhat expected, given the Bears' 4-11 record, but it still had to be captured.The Bucs did so easily, winning 31-15 to take a Wild Card berth.When the rest of the games were finished, however, it turned out that the Bucs would have made it at 9-7, too.However, they would have missed out on home field advantage in that first round, which helped them beat Barry Sanders and Detroit, 20-10.

Two years later, the Bucs actually finished the season with two wins over division foes, though the Week 16 game at Green Bay was probably more notable.The Packers were still in the playoff race at that time, but the Bucs sent them home with a 29-10 defeat on the strength of two Mike Alstott touchdowns.That clinched a Tampa Bay playoff berth, but the Bucs still had to win at Chicago the next weekend to take the division.Fortunately, this was still a down year for the Bears, and Tampa Bay won 20-6 at Soldier Field in the last game ever played by tackle Paul Gruber.The Bucs had a wild December overall, also beating Minnesotaand Detroit, both of which would claim Wild Card berths.

The 2000 Buccaneers needed only to win at Green Bay (oh, is that all?) to take home a second straight division title.And they just about did, as Martin Gramatica, the NFC's Pro Bowl kicker that year, lined up a 40-yard field goal with 14 seconds to play and the game tied, 14-14.Stunningly, Gramatica pushed his kick just barely wide.Green Bay won the toss in overtime, scored on the opening possession and delivered the NFC Central title to 11-5 Minnesota. The Bucs would have had a bye week and a home game to start the playoffs if Gramatica had made his kick. Instead, they were sent to Philadelphia for a Wild Card game and were beaten soundly, 20-3, on another cold night in the Vet.

You most likely remember the last three intra-division season finales.In 2005, the Bucs played four NFC South games in December, and won them all.When they beat Carolina in Week 14, it gave them a share of the division lead and an edge in the tiebreaker.When they lost at New England the next Saturday, it put them back into second.When they beat Atlanta in overtime in Week 16 (thanks largely to a blocked field goal by Dewayne White in the extra period) and Carolina lost, they moved back into the driver's seat.They needed only to beat New Orleans, 3-12 in their nomadic post-Katrina season, to win the division, and they did, 27-13.The '07 season finale, as mentioned, was irrelevant to the standings and Buc backups lost to Carolina, 31-23.Last year's finisher against Atlanta came well after the Bucs were eliminated from the race.

Anybody for another thriller like that 1981 game against the Lions or the 2000 contest in Green Bay (with a different ending, hopefully)?The Answer Man is.Here's hoping that new scheduling idea takes hold.

Now, on to your questions.

**

GD Canfield of Youngstown, Ohioasks, rather insistently and with some convincing all-caps action:


HEY ANSWER MAN.This is my second request.The original Buccaneer General
Manager was Ron Wolf (1976-1978). Who was the General Manager after him from 1979-1992 when Rich McKay took over? Please respond! Thank you.

Answer Man: Well, it's true, I have to admit.This is the second time Mr. Canfield (I'm gender-guessing here, but I'm thinking a guy is more likely to go the all-caps route) has sent in this question.And, full disclosure, I actually had it queued up in my last column, but I dropped a couple at the end when I started nearing 10,000 words.One of the reasons yours was dropped, oh Canfield person, was that you keep giving me your e-mail address instead of a name.

Whatever.It's still a good question, so I will ignore it no longer!

Know first that the questioner has most of the facts straight here, so the next few paragraphs are going to be kind of nitpicky.First off, Wolf was employed by the Buccaneers from 1975-77, not '76-78.Okay, he was still around until February of 1978, but generally when you mark an NFL employee's tenure as some range of years, you're referring to the seasons involved.Bruce Allen's tenure with the Buccaneers ended in January of 2009, but one would more accurately refer to him as the team's general manager from 2004-08.

Also, Wolf didn't technically hold the title of general manager during his time with the Buccaneers, though he was undoubtedly involved in building the roster.Wolf was Vice President/Operations, the title given to him in '75 when he was hired after Tampa got its franchise but before the team started play in 1976.He is listed with that title in both the 1976 and 1977 Buccaneer media guides.At the same time, John McKay was technically the Vice President/Head Coach which, yeah, is sort of a strange title.After leaving the team early in 1978, Wolf returned to the Raiders, where he had been for the 12 years before he came to Tampa.He stayed there through 1990, then moved to Green Bay, where he would find great success.And, even though he was no longer around when the Bucs made their stunning jump to playoff caliber in 1979, Wolf deserves some credit for putting that team together.

The dates are a little wonky on the other end of your premise, too, GD.Technically (loving that word yet?), McKay was not the Buccaneers' general manager until November 8, 1994.After serving as the team's legal counsel for six years, McKay joined the staff in 1992 as the Vice President - Football Administration.Sometimes these titles are just different ways of saying the same thing, but there was a significant distinction here, at the beginning.Sam Wyche also arrived in 1992 as the head coach, but his exact title was Head Coach/Director of Football Operations.Yes, that meant Wyche wanted final say when it came to the draft and other roster decisions.

So was it just a symbolic move when McKay got the G.M. title late in 1994, as the Buccaneers were in the process of looking for a buyer?Hardly.Check out these excerpts from McKay's bio in the 1995 media guide: "On November 8, 1994, Richard McKay was promoted to the position of General Manager..." and "In his expanded role, McKay will oversee the Buccaneers' college and pro personnel departments as well as the team's involvement in the draft and free agency."Added emphasis, in both cases, was mine.

True, Wyche retained his original title in 1995, but the word "oversee" is pretty prominent in the above excerpt.And, of course, '95 would prove to be Wyche's last season in Tampa; his successor, Tony Dungy, was simply "head coach."

Now, I didn't clarify all of that just to be nitpicky.Okay, yeah, I enjoy that aspect of it, too, but I think this brief look at changing titles and their meanings is important to the answer to your question.Because of I just took it at face value, I could respond in one word to your question of who was the Bucs' G.M. between Wolf and McKay:

Nobody.

In fact, until McKay's promotion in 1994, only one other person in team history had ever owned that title, and only for one year: Phil Krueger (more on him in a moment).As I said, both McKay and Wolf had VP titles, and no one specifically replaced Wolf in his capacity after his departure.

The one change of note from the 1977 to '78 staffs was Krueger's title and resulting responsibilities.The first assistant coach hired by McKay in 1975, Krueger had coached "Offensive Backs" in 1976 and then linebackers in 1977.He also had the title of "Research and Development" in '77, which almost certainly refers to scouting, whether it's pro or college.After Wolf's departure, Krueger continued to coach special teams but took on the title of Assistant to the President, the president being owner Hugh Culverhouse.In this role, he began to take on such duties as contract negotiations, which is certainly in the G.M. realm.

After McKay's retirement in 1984, the Bucs hired Leeman Bennett as their new head coach, and after two dismal seasons, Bennett was replaced by Ray Perkins in 1987.Both Bennett and Perkins got the same sort of title that McKay had held: Head Coach and Vice President of Football Operations.Perkins held that title through three seasons and the first 13 games of 1990, before he was fired and replaced on an interim basis by Richard Williamson.Meanwhile, Krueger continued on as assistant to the president, with contract negotiations among his duties.

Williamson was back in 1991, but with the interim tag removed (I hesitate to say "hired permanently," since '91 would be his only full season at the helm).However, for the first time, the Bucs' head coach was, by title, only a head coach.And for the first time, there was a General Manager: Phil Krueger.

Check out how Krueger's 1991 bio begins: "Hugh Culverhouse's February 4th press conference brought the naming of the fourth Buccaneer head coach, Richard Williamson, plus a general manager - a position left void in the organization since 1977.The job may be unfamiliar to Tampa Bay, but many of the duties are not new to the new general manager, Phil Krueger.

What do you see in there, besides the word "new" about a million times?I see three things that I think pretty much define the answer to your question and the state of the general manager position for the Buccaneers for the first two decades of franchise existence.

1. The phrase, "...left void in the organization..."That makes it clear that, however valuable Krueger was during all that time, he was not considered a de facto general manager.

2. The end of that same phrase, "...since 1977."That says that, even though Wolf did not technically have the title of general manager, he was obviously considered just that.

3. The contention that many of the G.M. duties would not be new to Krueger.In other words, he had been doing many of those duties - contract negotiation, administering the football budget, dealing with the NFLPA - all along. The difference, as this same bio points out, "...is one of accountability."

Quoted Krueger at the time: "In the past, I've implemented the policies of others, particularly the various head coaches.Now the formulation of the our overall football plan is my responsibility.It will be a management team in every sense of the word.We will rely on all of our resources, coaches and scouts in reaching our decisions."

Alas, that was Krueger's last year with the team, as Wyche arrived in 1992 and the dual Head Coach/VP title returned.

So, to recap, GD: Yes, Wolf and McKay were Buccaneer general managers, though not necessarily titled that or in the time frames you supplied.In between - roughly 1978 to 1994 - there was no Buccaneer G.M., with the exception of the 1991 season.Phil Krueger was the G.M. in 1991 and the closest thing the Buccaneers had to it in all those other seasons, though the roster-shaping decisions really fell into the hands of a succession of head coaches.

HOPE THAT ANSWERS YOUR QUESTION.

**

2. Devin Leech of Spring Hill, Florida asks:
Through 9 games started, who had a better start to their career, Josh Freeman or Trent Dilfer?

Answer Man: I had to go back and browse through my last column, because I recognized Devin's name and figured this was a follow-up to the question about Josh Freeman's passer rating last season.

But, no, that question came from a Paul O'Hara, while Devin asked about our most significant draft day trade ever.Now, I don't want to look like I'm playing favorites here, but this seems like a pretty good question to me so Devin's making it in two columns in a row.I'm sure this is one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to him.

Look, I argued pretty stridently in my last column that Freeman's 2009 passer rating of 59.8, while certainly a number that needs improvement, is not much of an indication of how promising the rookie was in his debut.Thus, it might be difficult for me to define what is "better" in this comparison.Let's just dive into and see what we get.

Dilfer's first nine starts included two single-game cameos during his 1994 rookie season.Thus, we would combine those two with the first seven games of 1995, when the 1994 first-rounder began a team-record string of 70 starts under center.Dilfer's two starts in his rookie season came at San Francisco in Week Eight and at home against Chicago in Week 10; Craig Erickson made the other 14 starts.

In his first nine starts, Dilfer threw 223 passes and completed 114, for a completion rate of 51.1%.He passed for 1,598 yards, three touchdowns and nine interceptions.He had a passer rating of 62.2, was sacked 24 times and his team was 5-4 in those nine starts.

Freeman saw a bit of mop-up duty against New England in London last year in Week Seven and then, after a bye week, took over as the starter in Week Nine.He went on to start the Bucs' final nine games of 2009.

In those nine starts, Freeman threw 286 passes and completed 156 for a completion rate of 54.5%.He threw for 1,839 yards, 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.He had a passer rating of 59.8, was sacked 18 times and his team was 3-6 in those starts.

Just objectively looking at those two sets of numbers, without getting into any of the context of any of the three seasons involved, Freeman has the edge in all of the counting stats.That is, he had more attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns in his first nine starts than did Dilfer.Freeman also had a better completion percentage and was sacked less often.

However, Dilfer had the slightly better passer rating, threw fewer interceptions by half (those two facts are heavily related) and, of course, his team won two more games.

Dilfer's slight (and virtually meaningless) edge in passer rating is almost completely due to the lower interception total.As I mentioned in my write-up of Freeman in the last column, it was that rash of picks over the last five weeks, most notably five at Carolina, that brought down the rookie's numbers.That problem will have to be corrected, but the good news is that Freeman looked fantastic in many other aspects of his game in his first few outings.

We can provide a little context, of course.Dilfer's first start, at San Fran, was easily one of his worst, and it would seem somewhat fair to remove those two scattered 1994 outings from the analysis.Dilfer clearly didn't do anything in those two starts to make his employers worry; they traded Erickson to the Colts and installed Dilfer as the opening day starter in 1995.The Bucs did win five of Dilfer's first seven starts in '95, but then fell apart in the second half and finished 7-9.It's a testament to the franchise's belief in Dilfer in those early years that he would start every game in 1996, 1997 and 1998, too.When the Bucs' fortunes turned around in 1997, so did Dilfer's, as he made the Pro Bowl and had a nice 82.8 passer rating.

Freeman was put in charge of an 0-7 team after it had first tried veteran Byron Leftwich and second-year man Josh Johnson at the helm. The team's initial plan was to keep its prized rookie on the sideline for one entire season, but Freeman performed so well in practice that the schedule was accelerated.He won his very first start, against Green Bay.

In fact, Freeman's first four starts were impressive, with a TD/INT ratio of 7/5 and a passer rating of 77.0.Those four games included one win and two road games in which the opponent won with a score in the final minute of regulation.Freeman later spiked again at season's end during road wins at Seattle and New Orleans, throwing for 476 yards and a 64.9% completion rate in those two starts.

Like Dilfer, Freeman will begin his second season as the opening-day starter.Dilfer's career in Tampa was good but not magnificent (he later won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens).Will Freeman's prove to have a higher ceiling?Current Buccaneers brass certainly believes so, and the Answer Man agrees wholeheartedly.For me, however, I'm basing that belief on what I saw with my eyes last fall, not what I can gather from a comparison of his first nine starts with Dilfer's first nine.

**

3. Chris M. of Tampa, FL asks:
Thank you for answering part of my question this past week in regards to expansion teams. The part of my question I was more interested had to do with the guidelines the NFL uses to grant a new team. For example if the Tampa Bay Area residents got together to purchase an NFL team for St. Petersburg, lets call them the St. Petersburg Answer Maniac's, what factors does the NFL take into consideration before granting approval of the new team? I am just guessing but I would assume population density, stadium and ownership background check come into play but I am sure there is more to it than that or we would have over 100 teams in the league.

Answer Man: Okay, here's another repeater from the last Q&A, but as you can see it's justified in this case because my last answer didn't really hit on the main question.

Well, at least Chris doesn't believe it did.I admit that I went off on a different tangent than what has been clarified above, but I still think I got partway to the mark anyway.Let's look at this part of your question: "I would assume population density, stadium and ownership background check come into play but I am sure there is more to it than that or we would have over 100 teams in the league."

Yes, those things come into play when the league is choosing where to put an expansion team after deciding that it definitely was going to expand.My point is, it doesn't really matter if there are 100 attractive suitors and perfect locations out there if the league doesn't want to go higher than 32 teams.

And I'm firmly of the belief that they do not.Every time the idea of a team in Los Angeles works its way back into the news/debate cycle, the question over whether relocating an existing team or expanding the league is the way to go.And I don't believe I've ever read a quote by a team owner or a league official that seemed enthusiastic about the idea of expanding.On the other hand, I have definitely seen opinions from the likes of Bill Polian that expansion would throw off the competitive balance in the league and spread the pool of elite player talent too thin.

The league likes its 32-team alignment, with its eight four-team divisions and the easy-to-manage schedule that includes home and away games against each intra-division foe and at least one game against every team in the league every four years.But I think I've discussed that at length before, so let's get back to what the league would be looking for in a site/owner for a new expansion team, should one be approved.

As I said, you hit on some of the major points in your final sentence: population, stadium viability and a financially secure ownership group.I would add this adjective to two of those three things: "committed."It's not just a matter of population size; it's the ability to show that people in your region would actively support the team.It may not be fair or accurate, but it's certainly one of the knocks on Los Angeles, which has been without a team since the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995, that its citizens might be more interested in the city's cultural offerings than the NFL.

The league also wants to believe that the ownership group it is letting into its exclusive circle is committed for the long haul.After a lot of searching I found this list of five criteria that the NFL was applying when choosing between L.A., Houston and a few other cities in 1999:

1. The league seeks organized local business, political and community leadership that can swiftly and deftly negotiate a mutually beneficial public sector/private sector partnership.

2. The league requires a demonstrated and committed fan base.One way of showing this is the fans' willingness to purchase such things as seat licenses.Charlotte pretty much sealed its deal in the early '90s when they did so well in this category.

3. The stadium should be state-of-the-art, with the ability to generate revenue streams for everyone involved.

4. A sizable commitment of local/regional tax revenue is necessary to ensure escalating franchise values.

5. The ownership group must be financially secure and committed for the long run.

There, I got it this time, right Chris?

**

4. Sam Coates of Newmarket, Ontario asks:
I've heard that the Rams are negotiating contracts with possible #1 draft picks.Is that because of players like Bo Jackson? Is there any league compensation for a team if a player like Bo decides your team's not for him? Shouldn't the Bucs have had the rights to Mr. Jackson when he returned to the draft?

Answer Man: That's a good series of questions, Sam, and I'll start with the last one because it's the easiest.

When an NFL team drafts a player, it acquires his rights for one year.If the player does not sign during that year, he can then re-enter the draft and be available to any team.The Buccaneers drafted Jackson with the first overall pick in 1986 despite his pre-draft warnings that he would not play for them.He stuck to that claim, refused to sign in Tampa and entered the 1987 draft a year later.The Raiders picked him up with a seventh-round pick, number 183 overall.

The Bucs have actually been on the other side of that issue before.In 1991, Craig Erickson was the latest star quarterback coming out of the University of Miami.He finished his senior season strong but was practicing for the Hula Bowl, a postseason all-star game, when he caught a toe in the turf and tore three ligaments in his right knee.The Philadelphia Eagles still made Erickson a fifth-round draft pick, but in a way he had a little leverage in negotiations.Knowing his rehab might keep him out of all or most of the 1992 season anyway, Erickson was in no particular rush to sign.He worked on his recovery, coached a little high school football and never did come to agreement with the Eagles.A year later, he went back into the draft and was taken by the Buccaneers in the fourth round.

Such examples are rare, because football players are well aware of how brief the average NFL career is and they are loathe to lose one of their prime seasons.Plus, what football player wants to be away from the game for an entire year?!Erickson might have taken his lead from another Miami Hurricane, running back Melvin Bratton, who was injured in the national championship game after the 1987 season.Bratton blew out his knee but was still drafted in the sixth round by the Miami Dolphins in 1988.He chose not to sign, rehabbed and went back into the 1989 draft, where he was taken by Denver in the seventh round.His NFL career lasted only two years, as his knee never quite made a full recovery.

Of course, Jackson's situation was far different, and not one we're likely to see again any time soon.He was a star in both football and baseball at Auburn; in fact, one of his points of contention with the Buccaneers was that they had cost him his senior year of eligibility in baseball by flying him to Tampa for a physical.When the Bucs drafted Jackson, he decided to sign with the Kansas City Royals, launching what proved to be a successful baseball career.The Raiders talked him into resuming his football career by allowing him to play both sports and not report to Oakland until after his baseball season was over in 1987.

Still working backwards on your list, no, there is no compensation when such a thing happens.The Bucs' drafting of Jackson in 1986 gave them exclusive negotiating rights with him for a year, and that's exactly what they got.

It has become commonplace for the team with the first overall pick to enter into negotiations with one or more of their possible selections before the draft actually begins.In case you were wondering, yes, this could cause a domino effect.If the Rams were to sign, say, Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford before the draft, thereby locking him in place as the first overall pick, the Detroit Lions, picking second, could then follow by doing the same with the player they intend to choose.The Lions couldn't do this, however, without the Rams doing it first because there would be no guarantee that the player the Lions sign will be available to them.At the moment, only the Rams have this guarantee.

Is this a reaction to the Bo Jackson situation?Eh, probably not.If so, it's quite delayed.This has only recently become a common practice, with the Texans signing Mario Williams early in 2006, the Dolphins doing the same with Jake Long in 2008 and the Lions following suit last year with Matthew Stafford.Other #1 overall picks who have signed early include Carson Palmer in 2003 and David Carr in 2002.The trend seems to have started with Cleveland and Tim Couch in 1999, long after the Bo Jackson situation.

No, it's not likely that teams fear their draft picks actually holding out for an entire year and re-entering the next draft, because it is such a rare occurrence.However, it's still a related issue.Consider the Lions with Stafford in 2009 and the Raiders with LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell in 2007.Because they had him under contract, the Lions knew that Stafford would be there for every step of the team's preparations for the '09 season.Russell, on the other hand, was not signed before the draft and ended up staging a lengthy holdout that stretched into the second week of the regular season.That certainly didn't help him get on the field; missing all of training camp was one of the reasons Russell didn't make his NFL debut until December 2 of that year.

Consider this, too: The team with the first overall pick has one piece of leverage before the draft that it won't have after the draft has begun.That would be the first overall pick and its attendant salary history.The team with the first pick can initiate negotiations with several different players, believing one or more of them will be motivated to make a deal in order to be the top pick.

Sam, you also had a nice question about the relative "worth" of different draft picks, such as the first overall and the third overall, but I didn't want to let you hijack this whole mailbag. I'll get to it in the next one, but as a quick note, there is a chart that some teams use that assigns a certain numerical value to each pick in the draft.I'll get into its origins in my extended answer, but essentially it allows those teams to get a quick idea of whether a trade of picks is "fair" or not.For instance, using made-up numbers, if the 15th pick in the first round is worth 5,000 points and you want to trade it for the 25th pick and a second-rounder, that extra pick needs to have a value at least equal to the difference between that of the 15th and 25th picks.

**

5. Andrew Schreffler of Plant City, Florida asks:
Hi there Answer Man! I have a rule related question for you. I was thinking back to a game last year when the Patriots Played the Ravens on October 4th, 2009. Terrell Suggs was able to fight his way through the line, pressuring Tom Brady. It seemed like Suggs lost his footing (or dived) and ended up barely missing the knee of Brady. After some enticing from Brady, Suggs was still flagged for roughing even though there was no real contact ever made. My question is, does the "Brady Rule" flag the intent to commit a foul? Has an incident like this occurred before? After a few minutes researching, I gave up the patience and decided to let the pro (yeah, that's you!) handle this one. Thanks!

Answer Man: In my last column, I answered a question from a Chris Gracia of Texas, and to avoid taking any potential typo blame (we all know that happens enough as is) I pointed out that if it his surname was supposed to be GARcia instead of GRAcia, I had just copied it the way it came.Now, I know people are not likely to misspell their own names, but Garcia is a far more common surname than Gracia.

So, anyway, Chris was nice enough to e-mail in a response, letting me know that Gracia was correct.I should learn from this and not bother questioning the spelling of names that are sent in, but I have to say, I've met or read about a decent number of "Schefflers," but Andrew here is my first "Schreffler."Still, a quick Google search of the name turns up tons of hits, so I guess my horizons have been officially expanded.

What I would guess from your e-mail, Andrew, is that you're not a big fan of the Patriots.I found a clip of that play on YouTube, and let's just say that not everyone shares your opinion of how harmless or unintentional Suggs' play was.In fact, CBS announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms clearly agreed with the official that threw the flag.Furthermore, your characterization that Brady enticed the official into throwing the flag isn't really supported by the video.Brady does turn to the referee after Suggs goes by him, but the ref is already reaching for his flag at this point.The referee does nod his head as he's throwing the flag, indicating that he agrees with what Brady is excitedly claiming to be a penalty.

Now, I'm not taking up the opposite side against you on this Andrew.Note that the particular YouTube video I watched was clearly posted by a Patriots fan, who calls it a "blatant cheap shot."In other words, if I'm right about you being somewhat anti-Patriot, I would say both you and bostongeorge6297 bring a little bit of bias to the issue.

And I think that bias is part of the answer.No, there is nothing in the rulebook that calls for a penalty for the intent to dive at a quarterback's legs below the knees.The actual contact needs to be made.Here's the entire passage from the rulebook, which is Rule 12, Section 2, Article 13 (5):

A rushing defender is prohibited from forcibly hitting in the knee area or below a passer who has one or both feet on the ground, even if the initial contact is above the knee.It is not a foul if the defender is blocked (or fouled) into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him.

Note 1: A defender cannot initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the passer in the knee area or below, even if his is being contacted by another player.

Note 2: It is not a foul if the defender swipes, wraps, or grabs a passer in the knee area or below in an attempt to tackle him.

As you can see, the penalty is for the contact, and in fact for specific types of contact.It is legal to try to tackle the quarterback from the ground by grabbing his legs; you just can't lunge or drive into them.Obviously, the second group of actions is much more likely to cause a serious injury.

You say that Suggs either lost his footing as he fought through the blockers or dived into Brady, and you put the "dived" in parenthesis, as an aside.I take this to mean you agree with the former description of the play, and not the latter.You also seem to think that there was no contact.The thing is, the referee clearly disagrees with you on both points.He isn't flagging Suggs for trying to dive at Brady's knees, he's flagging him for doing so and making contact.

Again, not to pick sides here Andrew, but when I watch the YouTube clip, it sure looks to me like the ref got it right on both accounts.You can see Suggs change directions suddenly after he disengages from the last blocker, and it even looks like he dives downward when he could have stayed up.In addition, it looks to me like he makes contact.Now, Brady sees him at the last second and sort of hops backward as the contact is coming, making it nothing more than a glancing blow and avoiding any injury.It looks to me like that's why Brady is so animated - he believed Suggs tried (but failed) to injure him with a cheap shot.

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6. Jonathan Bailey of Enterprise, Alabama asks:
How many first round draft picks have the Buccaneers used on offensive players, and who were the picks used on?

Answer Man: To be honest, Brian and Danielle White of Portland, Californiaor Tampa (I was a little confused as to their current location), asked a deeper and probably more interesting question about the Bucs' draft history.The Whites asked me to compare Tampa Bay's drafting success from 2004-08 against that of the other three teams in the NFC South.That sounds like a worthy undertaking - though it will be a difficult one in which to control my Buc bias - but I need to give it a little more time.Also, the main gist of the Whites' question gets down to whether or not any blame should be placed for draft missteps, and where, and given my position I'd like to avoid that discussion.I'll take my time, try to give it some objective analysis and let you decide.

So, Brian and Danielle, please be patient until my next column, and I'll take this softball one from Jonathan in its place.Yeah, that's a bit lazy.I've said it before but I'll say it again, I think my editor zones out after about two or three thousand words.

Jonathan, the Buccaneers have participated in 34 NFL drafts since beginning play in 1976.In eight seasons (1979, 1983, 1984, 1992, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003), the team made no picks in the first round.However, in four other drafts (1986, 1995, 1996 and 1997), the Bucs made two first-round selections, which leads to a total of 30 first-round picks in team history, so far.

Sixteen of those 30 picks, or almost exactly half, have been used on offensive players.If one combines tackles and guards, then offensive line has been the most common first-round position for the Bucs on offense, with six choices.The other 16 include four quarterbacks, four running backs and two wide receivers.Let's take it position by position:

Offensive Line: G Ray Snell (1980), G Sean Farrell (1982), T Paul Gruber (1988), T Charles McRae (1991), T Kenyatta Walker (2001) and G Davin Joseph (2006).

That's a mixed group.Gruber and Joseph were unmitigated success, the former commonly considered the top offensive lineman in team history and the latter making the Pro Bowl in just his third season.Snell and Farrell were considered solid players in their time but may not have returned first-round value in the long run.Walker may not have developed into the all star many expected after the draft, but he did start 73 games over six seasons.McRae is considered one of the more prominent first-round misses in team history.

Quarterback: Doug Williams (1978), Vinny Testaverde (1987), Trent Dilfer (1994) and Josh Freeman (2009).

Much more good than bad here, it appears, and certainly no outright busts in the Tim Couch/Akili Smith mold.Williams guided the young Bucs to three playoff appearances and later became a Super Bowl star with the Redskins.Testaverde struggled quite a bit as a Buccaneer but eventually played the better part of two decades in the NFL and is currently seventh on the NFL's all-time passing yardage chart.Dilfer started (76) and won (38) more games than any other quarterback in Buc history, made the Pro Bowl in 1997 and helped Tampa Bay to a pair of playoff appearances.Freeman has just nine NFL starts but has the franchise very excited about the future.

Running Back: Ricky Bell (1977), Bo Jackson (1986), Warrick Dunn (1997) and Cadillac Williams (2005).

If not for the Bo Jackson situation, about which you can read more above, this would be an across-the-board success.Bell was the driving force for the Bucs' offense during their amazing 1979 playoff run and likely would have enjoyed a long and productive career if he wasn't felled by a rare disease.Dunn went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie and is one of only six players in NFL history with 10,000 rushing yards and 500 catches.Williams was the 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year and remains a key part of the team's attack going forward despite having to overcome two serious knee injuries.

Wide Receiver: Reidel Anthony (1997) and Michael Clayton (2004).

The Bucs haven't gone the receiver route often in the first round.Anthony peaked at 51 catches in 1998 but never became the star many expected him to be as the 16th overall pick in 1997. Clayton had a marvelous rookie season, one of the finest in NFL history, but has yet to duplicate those numbers for a variety of reasons, including injuries.

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Okay, we'll wrap it up the same way as always, with a short list of what I call "Quickies." These are questions that either require little explanation or were answered satisfactorily in previous Answer Man columns.

7. Blair Carter of Dallas, Texas asks:
What is the end zone area [in Raymond James Stadium] called where they shot off the cannons after a score?

Answer Man: That is Buccaneer Cove.It's a 20,000-square-foot area running the entire length of the stadium's north end zone concourse.It's backed by a row of concession stands designed to resemble a weathered fishing village fa├žade.The cannons are part of the Cove's majestic 103-foot long Pirate Ship.The ship is an authentic replica of an early 1800s pirate ship.

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8. Ray Jordan of Clearwater, Florida asks:
Why was Antonio Bryant released?

Answer Man: He wasn't.Bryant became an unrestricted free agent on March 5, along with about eight or nine other players from Tampa Bay's 2009 roster.He was free to sign with any team and he chose the Cincinnati Bengals.

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9. Douglas Nix of Tampa asks:
Why did the Bucs release WR Paris Warren? He showed such promise prior to his injury. (Did the injury have latent effects he couldn't overcome? He has speed, great hands, a superb route runner.) I really thought he could be the 'Go To' WR. Thanks! PS: When will the videos give us the option of 'Full Screen'? later.

Answer Man: This may not seem like a "Quickie," but I think it is simply for this reason: There's not much I'm going to be able to tell you about Warren or any other young prospect being let go other than the team's personnel men did not believe he was one of the best 53 players available.I met Warren several times and found him to be a great guy, but I'm not a scout and I don't claim to have better evaluation skills than they do.I definitely do not believe the team pulled the trigger too quickly on Warren, even after his injury and recovery.After Warren spent the 2007 season on injured reserve (following his very unfortunate injury at the very end of the preseason), he was brought to camp again in 2008.He was released at the end of the preseason but returned to the practice squad for a week in October.The Bucs then signed Warren again in January to give him another shot, but he was released in May.

The second part of your question is definitely a "Quickie."The videos will have full-screen capability when the new Buccaneers.com is launched, and that will be VERY soon.

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10. Brian of Montgomery, Alabama asks:
Do the Buccaneers plan on bringing back the throwback uniforms this season?

Answer Man: Yes.As I answered in Series 6, Vol. 2, teams that sign up to play a throwback game actually must commit to playing at least one every year for the next five seasons.So not only will the throwback uniforms reappear this coming fall, they will also be on display for at least the next three seasons after that.

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11. Justin of St. Petersburg, Florida asks:
As I feel it is important for mascots to keep their identities hidden much like a superhero, I do find myself curious of this question. Has Captain Fear's true identity ever changed or has it been the same guy or gal all along?

Answer Man: His true identity?What are you talking about, Justin?!What you see is what you get with Captain Fear!He is the same shipwrecked pirate who was rescued by the Clearwater Coast Guard on June 2, 2000.When his ship was later recovered, rebuilt and placed in Buccaneers Cove, he took up residence there and has supported his beloved Buccaneers ever since.

Now, hypothetically, if the Buccaneers instead had a costumed mascot with an individual inside, then I would guess that the identity of that individual would have changed a few times since 2000.The changes would have been infrequent, however, with most of the individuals enjoying long tenures in the role.At times, potentially, the team might have had more than one individual filling that role.

But that's all hypothetical, as I said, since the Bucs have a real mascot, Captain Fear, and no need of a costume.

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Okay, that's it for this Q&A.I know it was a little shorter than usual, but at about 8,000 words, it's not exactly short.I will say this: I actually emptied the entire mailbag while setting this column up.That's rare, but it means that you've got a much better chance of getting your question in the next column if you send in a good one over the next two weeks.

One note: I've fallen into the pattern of posting every other Friday, though this week I pushed it to Saturday to give the announcement of the new cheerleaders the spotlight it deserves.Two weeks from now, however, we'll be knee-deep in the 2010 draft, so don't expect the next Answer Man until the following week.Thanks.A.M. out.