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The Answer Man, Series 9, Volume 6

Posted Jul 30, 2013

The Buc fans' ultimate source of knowledge, the Answer Man returns to tackle another handful of Buc and NFL-related questions, from the specifics of the waiver wire to air pressure issues in game balls, and more


Training Camp 2013 is underway!  If you live in or around the Bay area, you might have even stopped by to catch one of the open practices already.  If not, there are still six more that are open to the public; check out the camp page here on Buccaneers.com for more details.

 

If you do come by One Buc Place for a camp practices, you'll probably be eager to see the new faces and big names.  You want to see Darrelle Revis in red and pewter and you want to see how Doug Martin 2.0 looks and you want to see these guys in pads and hitting each other already.  You probably want to get an autograph from Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy or new Buc Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson.

 

And that's all fine and dandy.  But what the Answer Man really loves about training camp every summer is the action at the bottom of the roster.  The fight for spots #50 and 51 and 52 and 53.  The player that the average fan had never heard of in April who becomes an out-of-nowhere sensation in August or later in the season.  The Clifton Smiths and Karl Williamses.

 

Before we get to your questions, let the Answer Man reminisce for a few paragraphs about some of the best out-of-nowhere camp-guy stories that he has personally witnessed in his time hanging around One Buc Place (the old version and the new).  Indulge me…it's been at least three columns since I've bored you with any sort of lengthy intro.

 

In no particular order:

 

- Todd Yoder, TE, 2000.  The Answer Man vividly remembers seeing a depth chart at the start of that training camp and Mr. Yoder was listed seventh at the tight end spot.  That's a lot of tight ends to have in camp, period, and to start out at number seven can't feel too good.  Dave Moore was a good bet to keep his starting job and Patrick Hape was an established number two as a blocker, but there was no obvious answer after that for the #3 spot.  Yoder certainly wasn't obvious, an undrafted free agent out of Vandy who looked like an afterthought after fifth-round draft pick James Whalen and a handful of veteran free agents.  But Yoder outlasted them all and went on to play four seasons in Tampa, earning a Super Bowl ring, plus another five in Jacksonville and Washington.

 

- The Truth, WR, 1996.  Yeah, that's the Karl Williams I mentioned above, a player most Buc fans of any tenure would remember.  Buccaneer scouts went to little Texas A&M-Kingsville that summer to check out some offensive linemen and ended up hauling Williams, a receiver, along with guard Jorge Diaz back to Tampa as undrafted free agents.  That was Tony Dungy's first year at the helm.  Williams was quiet and he stood just 5-10 and 163 pounds, but he stood out right from the beginning as a crisp route-runner.  He surprisingly made the team to fill out a receiving corps that included Courtney Hawkins, Horace Copeland, Alvin Harper and Charles Wilson, and by the end of the season he had also grabbed the return job.

 

- Shelton Quarles, LB, 1997.  Right up there at the top of the list of the best undrafted acquisitions in team history, though technically the Bucs were his second NFL stop.  Quarles tried to catch on with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 1994, out of Vandy, but was cut in mid-August.  He spent the next two years toiling in relative obscurity in the Canadian Football League (and, for a while, total obscurity in a printing press back in Tennessee) before current Buc G.M. Mark Dominik found him in the CFL.  Quarles came to camp with the Bucs in the summer of '97 and right away was one of the team's best special teamers.  Eventually, he rose to starter at strongside linebacker and then, in the Super Bowl year, at middle linebacker, where he become a Pro Bowler.

 

- Sean McDermott, LS, 2001.  Sure, he played just one season as a Buccaneer, and at perhaps the most anonymous position on the team, long-snapper.  Still, this walk down Memory Lane is about the good stories, and not too many were better than McDermott's.  After finishing up his college career at Kansas in 1999, McDermott, a part-time tight end but accomplished snapper, found no NFL takers.  He spent the next 18 months or so in Lawrence, Kansas, working as a bartender and a bouncer and barely making ends meet.  Convinced that he could make it in the NFL, McDermott kept sending out highlight tapes, and he finally got a nibble from the Buccaneers.  They agreed to try him out, but he had to make it to Tampa on his own.  McDermott used his last $400, earmarked for bills, to get to Florida, and after some frustrating delays, got his tryout and impressed then-Special Teams Coach Joe Marciano.  McDermott was signed to the roster, eventually won the job and was the Bucs' long-snapper all throughout the 2001 season.  And the reason his career in Tampa lasted just one year was because the new Houston Texans snapped him up in their expansion draft the next offseason, where he was reunited with Marciano.

 

Okay, I'm going to wrap up this round of reminiscing before I lose you and get on to your questions.  And if you'd like to get a question into one of my future columns, send it in here.

 

**

 

1. Andrew Paul of Atlanta, Georgia asks:

It's understood that when teams release players from their rosters, those players become free agents who are open to sign with other clubs. However, what if multiple teams (assuming they all have the cap space) each put matching claims on a handful of the same free agents? Are those players simply able to sign with the claiming teams of their choice? Or are the rules of free agency more complex than that?

 

Answer Man: The rules of free agency are…well, I wouldn't go so far as to say their complex.  They're fairly easy to grasp once they're laid out.  But they're not quite as simple as your opening sentences would indicate.

 

First, you have to understand what a "vested veteran" is.  That's what a player becomes once he has accrued four or more years of minimum salary credit, and at that point he is no longer subject to the waiver wire.  When he is released by a team, he immediately becomes a free agent and can sign with any team that he wishes.  Before a player is vested, however, he is "waived" when a team chooses to let him go, and he is then subject to the waiver wire.

 

By the way, there are two different types of "seasons" that a player "accrues" during his career.  One determines when he hits different levels of free agency and the other determines what level of minimum salary he is at.  You hear about the first one more often.  The second one has a lower threshold to accrue a season; a player has to be on an active roster for three regular-season games to get credit for that year.  However, unlike the seasons accrued towards free agency, time spent on injured reserve does not count when determining minimum salary.

 

Also, even vested veterans are subject to the waiver wire from the trading deadline to the end of the season.  The purpose there, obviously, is to avoid teams getting around the trade deadline by releasing and signing players, without at least having the danger of another team putting in a claim.

 

When a player is on the waiver wire, any team can put in a claim on him, and if the team is awarded that player, it assumes both his rights and the obligations of whatever remains on his contract.  If only one team puts in a claim, then that team gets the player's rights.  However, if multiple teams submit a claim (and they do so not knowing if any other team has submitted one), then the player is awarded to the team with the highest spot in the waiver order.

 

How is that order determined?  Well, throughout the offseason and up through the first three weeks of a new season, the order remains the same and is based on the previous year's standings.  The team with the worst record the previous year is first, the second-worst team is second, etc., with strength of schedule used as the tiebreaker for teams with identical records.  It's the same order as that year's draft.  After the third game of a season, the waiver order is then determined by the current standings and is thus subject to change every week.

 

The claiming period – the amount of time the player spends on the waiver wire before either being assigned to a claiming team or becoming a free agent – is 24 hours.  The NFL sends out the day's list of transactions at 4:00 p.m. ET each day; any players who were waived before that are on the wire for 24 hours, giving teams until 4:00 p.m. the next day to submit a claim. During the offseason, the weekend doesn't count, so players waived on Friday will be assigned on Monday.  During the season, Sundays don't count.

 

**

 

2. Smitty of O'Fallon, Missouri asks:

As a somewhat technical guy, I enjoyed your discussion of why and how kickers try to prepare a football for better control when kicked. Are game balls inflated before being shipped to the city for play, and are they all filled and shipped from one place? If so, what city is that? If rounder is better, but softer is also better, do these two effects cancel out for a ball filled in, say, NYC (sea level), but put into play in Denver (high altitude)?

 

Answer Man: As a somewhat technical guy, you say.  Before I even get my super-powered mitts on this one you're already introducing concepts such as air pressure at varying altitudes.  What are you, an engineer?

 

By the way, I originally read part of Smitty's question wrong, and I thought he was comparing New York City and Denver as the two extremes of elevation above sea level for NFL stadiums.  (He actually was imagining a scenario in which a ball was manufactured and filled at sea level and then shipped to a much higher altitude.  Reading comprehension, I don't always have it.)  Anyway, that predictably set me off on a tangent to determine if the Giants and Jets played closest to sea level in the NFL; there's no doubt, of course, that the Broncos play at the highest elevation.  (Maybe tangents are my version of Superman's kryptonite…they weaken my ability to actually get to the answer that the fan wants in the first place).

 

But, darn it, I went to all the work of finding out those 31 elevations (the Giants and Jets share a home stadium), so you're going to sit through the unpacking of the resulting data.  I should point out that having been to such places as Candlestick Park (don't ever go there if you don't have to), I know that you can't just take the listed elevation for the surrounding city (San Francisco).  Sometimes the stadium is right down on the water, and it's lower there.  That's certainly the case at Candlestick.  So – all in an effort to serve you, dear readers – I used a map I found on nationalmap.gov and the exact latitude and longitude of select stadiums to look up some more precise elevations.  I probably mapped about a dozen stadiums this way, focusing on the ones at both ends of the elevation spectrum.  I didn't think you cared much whether Lambeau Field was at 550 or 650 feet above sea level (okay, it's 619, I looked it up).

 

The cool thing is that there are four NFL stadiums whose official elevation is 10 feet or fewer above sea level, and another three between 11 and 20.  Not surprisingly, the lowest is the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, at just two feet above sea level.  That barely edged out MetLife Stadium in E. Rutherford, New Jersey, where both the Giants and Jets play.  That one is four feet above sea level; Jacksonville (seven), Oakland (10), Baltimore (13), San Francisco (16) and Seattle (18) all play at very low altitude, too.  Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium, if you were wondering, is officially at 35 feet above sea level.

 

As I mentioned, and you already knew, Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High is the most elevated NFL home.  It's, yeah, about a mile high…5,195 feet according to that government elevation map.  You might find it a bit tougher to guess which stadium is a (distant) second.  That honor goes to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, which at 1,068 feet just edges out the Falcons' Georgia Dome (1,000).

 

Here's another number: 508.  That's how many words I've already spent (and counting) on Smitty's e-mail without even addressing the actual question yet.  My editors may not be pleased but, like Superman, while my mission is to serve humanity, I answer to no man.

 

So, first of all, all official NFL footballs are made at the Wilson Football Factory in Ada, Ohio, which opened in 1955, believe it or not.  The section of Wilson's web site about the factory says that every NFL game ball since 1941 has been produced there, which is pretty cool.  They get their cowhide from cows in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, if you cared to know.

 

Yes, they are inflated in Ohio before they are shipped to teams.  However, they tend to arrive having lost a little bit of their inflation, so it is part of a team's standing process (the Bucs' process, at least) to unpack the balls and then re-inflate them to the exact NFL specifications, which is 13 pounds of pressure.  So, assuming every team does this, the balls might arrive in different shape at different elevations, but they are all going to be returned to NFL specs before they go into a game.  There's a double-check, too – all footballs that are going to be used in a game are inspected by the officials before they go out to the field.  In the discussion that Smitty alluded to in his question, I explained how kickers now only have a few minutes with a football to try to soften it up and make it a little rounder before they have to kick it.  That's all the squeezing you see them doing on TV.  Before the "K ball" and this new procedure with the officials was introduced, kickers and equipment pros would conspire to massage those footballs into the desired conditions for days before each game.

 

Now, teams do take footballs with them when they fly to another city for an away game, especially if they are going early enough to hold a practice in that city.  And, yes, the equipment guys re-inflate the balls to the right specs upon their arrival.  So there's no need to worry about the footballs being different at different elevations, Smitty.

 

Here's what is a much more aggravating element for quarterbacks and equipment pros: Humidity.  The amount of moisture in the air noticeably affects how "tacky" the ball feels, and quarterbacks from teams with outdoor stadiums really notice the difference when they play in domes.  The less humid air inside a dome makes the balls slicker, like the way they come out of the bag, and some QBs don't like that feel.  That may seem a little picky, but when you consider the incredibly tight windows they sometimes have to fit their passes into, you can understand that any little difference could throw them off…at least mentally if not really that much physically.

 

Well, it took a while, but I think I finally got around to answering your question, right Smitty?  If not, I'm sure somebody can write in again and we can keep going on and on about the apparently fascinating subject of cowhide conditioning.

 

**

 

3. Justin Torres of Fort Myers, Florida asks:

Hello answer man. This question comes all the way from Schofield Barracks, HI. In a recent interview with NFL Network Total Access, Greg Schiano said he expects a big year from Josh Freeman (let's all hope the same). My question is in regards to how many 'big years' Josh will need to meet the likes and records of the league's elite. If he were to say play til he's 35 years old, how many yards and touchdowns would he have to average to eclipse those records held by Favre? What would he have to average just to crack the top 5 in passing yards, touchdowns, 4th quarter comebacks, etc.? I hope this is challenging enough for you to spend your time on it! Thanks!

 

Answer Man: That's kind of an unusual question.  I mean, Coach Schiano says he expects a big year and now we're extrapolating all the way out to Josh's career numbers and how they might compare to the all-time greats.  On the other hand, the other day when he was asked if he was feeling more pressure this year, Freeman did say that his own goals are set much higher than anyone else could ever set for him.  He said he wants to be one of the best NFL quarterbacks ever, which is surely the goal of many young passers.  Like you said, Justin, let's all hope for the same.  That would be great.

 

So I'll go ahead and answer your question for that reason.  And because this is basically just a mathematical exercise anyway, which is right up the Answer Man's alley.

 

You asked me to look into the top five in "passing yards, touchdowns, 4th quarter comebacks, etc."  Well, I'm going to change that to the more specific "game-winning drives" because the whole 4th quarter comebacks category gets a little messy when you start doing the research.  You should even take the comeback category with a grain of salt because the same great Pro-Football-Reference site from which we're getting the list of leaders has other links that take you to lengthy discussions about the issue in 2009 and 2010.  I'm not sure that anyone has yet agreed on the list.  Even the author who put all the work into those blog posts says (or said in 2010): "Just how prestigious is the comebacks record? Well, since virtually no one can seem to keep track of it properly, I guess the answer would be 'not too much.' Hopefully that will change soon."  I guess we can assume the list we find on Pro Football Reference is the product of his work, so we'll include it, but like I said, grain of salt, okay.

 

But the "etc." in your question leaves me a little leeway to add categories, so let's go with these.  They're all "counting" stats, because things such as completion percentage and passer rating don't really depend on Freeman getting a certain number of anything per year:

 

  • Completions
  • Attempts
  • Passing Yards
  • Touchdown Passes
  • Game-Winning Drives
  • Wins
  • Playoff Wins
  • Super Bowl Wins (as a starter)

 

And here's how we'll handle this puppy, chart-wise: For each category, I will list the current top five on the NFL's all-time list.  Because even listing five last names takes up a lot of space, I'm going to use initials inside the chart and provide a key at the bottom.  You can probably figure out who most of them are with a little thinking – BF is Brett Favre, DM is Dan Marino, etc. – and there will obviously be a lot of repeats.  Any player who is still active is marked with an asterisk, and that's important because it means the target we're shooting at for Freeman is going to keep moving.  Take completions – right now Drew Brees is already fifth on that list with 4,035.  I think it's a safe bet that the 33-year-old New Orleans Saint is going to add to his numbers and move up the list.  Thus, the "target" for Freeman to crack the top five is going to be one more than John Elway's 4,123.  The average in the final column in the chart is what Freeman would need per season to reach that target.  Using your parameters, we're saying he's playing through his age-35 season, which means we're talking about a span of 11 years, including 2013.

 

That "target" issue is really even a bigger problem than I indicate above.  There are lots of good passers in the NFL right know and the overall passing numbers seem to go up every year.  Tom Brady is eighth on the completions list already; he could move up and change how the top five looks by the time 2023 rolls around, as could other guys.  But, all we can do is go with the numbers we have before us right now.  That means the target is always going to be the fifth guy on the list as it stands heading into 2013, unless, as in the example above, it's very obvious that the guy in fourth is going to drop at least down to fifth at some point.

 

Category

Top 5

Target

Average

Completions

BF, PM*,DM, JE, DB*

4,124

274.7

Attempts

BF, DM, PM*, JE, WM

6,824

450.1

Yards

BF, DM, PM*, JE, WM

49,326

3,305.7

TD Passes

BF, PM*, DM, FT, ToB*

343

24.1

GWD

DM, PM*, JE, BF, WM/ToB*

38

2.5

Wins

BF, PM*, JE, DM, ToB*

148

11.3

Playoff Wins

ToB*, JM, TeB, JE, BF

14

1.3

SB Wins

TeB/JM, TA/ToB*, Many tied w/2

3

0.3

 

(Key: BF = Brett Favre; PM = Peyton Manning; DM = Dan Marino; JE = John Elway; DB = Drew Brees; WM = Warren Moon; FT = Fran Tarkenton; ToB = Tom Brady; JM = Joe Montana; TeB = Terry Bradshaw; TA = Troy Aikman.)

 

So here's the rough completion-attempts-yards-TDs line Freeman would need to put up per season through the 2023 campaign if he wants to get into the (current) top five in those categories:

 

  • 275 of 450 for 3,305 yards and 24 touchdowns

 

And here's what Freeman put up in those four categories last year:

 

  • 306 of 558 for 4,144 yards and 27 touchdowns

 

Given that Freeman probably has not reached the ceiling of what he is capable of producing, those two comparative lines would seem to indicate that he could find his way into that elite category of career numbers.  There are some pretty gigantic variables, however, that make that sort of prediction very hard to make, such as: 1) Can he remain healthy and a starter for all 11 of those years.  Missing even one season would push those per-season averages that he needs up considerably.  2) How high will the numbers be in the fifth spot by the time the 2023 season rolls around?  Again, passing numbers inflate every year, so guys like Brees and Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning and others could significantly change how high those numbers are before Freeman gets within striking distance.

 

But, hey, all I was doing was answering your question, which I believe I've done, you can decide how much stock you want to put into the numbers.

 

As for the other categories, Freeman's best head start is clearly in the game-winning drives row (GWD).  He already has 10 of them, according to the Pro-Football-Reference chart, which is awfully good by the age of 25.  On that same chart, we see the 29-year-old Rodgers and the 24-year-old Matt Stafford at nine and the 25-year-old Sam Bradford at four (cherry-picking a little bit on those choices, but you get the idea).  Freeman's 10 game-winning drives have come in 56 career starts.  By your parameters, Justin, Freeman would get 176 more starts over 11 seasons; to be safe, let's just say 150.  At his current pace, he would produce 37 game-winning drives, which is awfully close to making the top five as it stands now.

 

The final three categories don't really lend themselves to extrapolation very well.  Well, I suppose regular-season wins does to some extent, and in that one it's going to be tough.  Freeman could very well be a superstar for a decade, but it's going to be hard for him to be on an 11-team every year.  The playoff wins and Super Bowl wins will either come or they won't, and that of course will help answer the "elite" question in many people's minds.

 

**

 

Alright, that's it for this column.  I originally was going to include a fourth question from "Uncle Buc" of Glasgow, Kentucky about the strangest games/occurrences in Buccaneer history, but I decided to ask for your help first, you assembled Buccaneer fans.  Uncle Buc wants to hear stories of "weird stats, strange plays, crazy-unforeseen outcomes, etc." in team history.  I'm sure I can come up with a pretty good list, and I even started to do so (remember the Hooters play during Sam Wyche's tenure?), but I was afraid I would miss some pretty good ones.  I figured a better approach would be to suggest that if anyone out there remembers a game or a play or something that fits the ball, send it in to me and I'll include it in my eventual answer in the next column.  Sound like a plan?

 

Cool.  Send them in here, or if you'd rather, use that link to submit your own question.  With the season rapidly approaching, your friendly neighborhood Answer Man won't be making frequent posts, but I'll get in another couple columns this year.