QB Shaun King says the NFL helmet radios get pretty good reception
Imagine this scenario: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers trade a 2005 first-round draft pick to acquire a new wide receiver, immediately sign him to a large contract with a sizeable signing bonus despite having very little cap room, then assign him jersey number 87 and send him to get an MRI exam on a troublesome knee.
That, of course, would be several notable news items wrapped in one, enough to keep us occupied for days or weeks. Besides the big picture, however, the minutiae of this scenario also holds some mystery, at least for us.
A *2005 draft pick? Can you do that?
Surely the Bucs can work out the cap situation, but what if they didn't? What would happen.
And why number 87?*
Today, we go in search of a few NFL facts that have previously mystified us. We speak today of cell resonance and contract hesitance, of cap fines and helmet whines. We want the facts behind the facts, and we've tracked down the experts to help us out.
Q. Just how far down the road, chronologically, can you trade a draft pick? Could the Buccaneers deal their 2020 first-rounder for a fifth-round pick this year?
A. Technically, there is no limit, but you would never see such a deal take place.
"I think two years out is the realistic limit," said John Idzik, the Bucs' director of football administration. Idzik confirmed that there's nothing stopping a team from trading a pick 20 years out, but believes teams naturally set their own restrictions.
"We're a league of instant gratification, for the fans' sake, so most of your deals are done in the light of trying to put an improved product on the field for this year or next," he said. "Anything beyond that, it's tough to justify from either end.
"We're fortunate here because we've had continuity, but you look at most other clubs and there's turnover in scouting, there's turnover in coaches, there's turnover in the front office. So it gets tougher and tougher to do deals that are too far out in the future. Realistically, two years out is the max you would go."
Q. What happens if a team does go over the salary cap and does nothing to rectify the situation?
A. If Idzik, General Manager Rich McKay and the rest of the Bucs' personnel staff took off on vacation and simply ignored a cap violation, there would be stiff penalties. It's not a situation a team would let themselves get into.
"You've got to be compliant," said Idzik. "It is a daily cap, so you have to be compliant with the salary cap each and every day. It's a 365-days-a-year cap."
Okay, but the question is, what if you aren't? What if an important fax doesn't go through?
"That's up to the commissioner," said Idzik. "He can sanction the club. It could be a monetary fine, it could be a draft choice fine. There's a number of things he could do. He could even fine the employees.
"In light of recent events, they can find out the executives involved and, if there was intent to circumvent the cap, they can fine and suspend the NFL employees. They've taken it one step further to make sure there's no monkey business. The ramifications are clear so that no one just blows off the cap, basically."
Q. I've heard the term 'MRI' a million times and I know it's a tool for internal examination, like an X-ray, but how exactly does it work?
A. The answer depends on how technical you want to get. Assuming you don't want to become involved in a scholarly discussion on molecular biology, pulse frequencies and imaging modalities, the basic idea behind magnetic resonance imaging is fairly simple.
"The power in the magnet causes the cells in your body to resonate," said Bucs Head Trainer Todd Toriscelli. "The different types of tissues have different signatures, if you will, when they resonate, so they give a different image. These images can be projected onto film, much like a camera. The vibration of the cells is transferred to an image which is then put on film for interpretation."
The extremely powerful magnets used by MRI machines, which were first tested on a human in 1977, direct a pulse into the tissue that is absorbed by the spinning protons in hydrogen atoms, forcing them to spin in a specific direction and at a specific frequency. When the pulse is turned off, the protons return to their natural alignments and release the excess stored energy. This released energy creates the image.
The image is then turned over to the experts for interpretation.
"Basically, the way an MRI is interpreted is to compare the results with what you know to be the normal anatomical configurations of the knee or shoulder or whatever," said Toriscelli. "Fluid shows up really well ... anything abnormal, you can interpret what it is."
Actually, the physicians and radiologists examine dozens of images from one MRI exam. These exams can take up to 45 minutes for, say, a knee, as multiple images are recorded.
"An MRI will give you about 25 to 30 images," said Toriscelli. "If you take a loaf of bread, and take out a slice at a time, you get images at different depths. You take a slice out and put it up on the board, take out another slice and put it up – it's not one image, it's many."
Q. So the receiver got jersey number 87. I understand that there are specific number ranges reserved for specific position groups, but why are receivers and tight ends in the 80s. The other players that handle the ball, the quarterbacks and receivers, are down in the first half of the spectrum, but the little wideouts are jammed between the offensive and defensive linemen. What's up with that?
A. It's just tradition.
When the NFL decided to make certain positions conform to certain number ranges, they tried to do it in a way that didn't shake up what already was in practice too much.
"Receivers have historically been in the 80s - tight ends and receivers," said Idzik. "I think it stemmed more out of that than anything else. As colleges started to use multi-positional guys - players that were halfbacks that you would flank out, or guys that were recruited at one position then switched to another – you saw more college receivers getting the lower numbers. Plus, they have significantly larger rosters in college.
"With the onslaught of teen numbers from college, and those guys wanting to keep their numbers, there was more and more pressure to have varied numbers. But if you look back through time, most NFL receivers have been in the 80s, and they wanted to keep it that way. Of course, when you've used up all the numbers, the teens are used as a second tier."
The numbering system is used largely to make the game easier to officiate. Certain players on the field are eligible to catch passes, while others aren't. The numbers make that easy to differentiate, but that doesn't explain why receivers are up in the 80s.
"You want to quickly recognize who is an eligible receiver, and if you're not, you have to report," said Idzik. "But as far as differentiating backs from receivers, there's no reason why that has to be done, because they're both eligible receivers. It's just a traditional thing."
Q. You gave the receiver a large signing bonus. Does that mean he actually receives the money in exchange for the act of writing his name on the contract, at that very moment?
A. The term 'signing bonus' should be taken somewhat literally, but in practical terms there is usually some delay.
"Most of the contracts now, there's an approval process you have to go through," said Idzik. "When you sign the player, the agent has to in turn sign it and approve the contract from his standpoint. Then we counter-sign it as a club and we send it to the league. The league reviews it and makes sure it's salary-cap compliant and the language is consistent with the rules and by-laws of the league. Once they approve it, we get it back and everybody gets their copies.
"Also, signing bonuses have escalated to such a degree that it can be a cash-flow concern. So you'll see a number of the larger signing bonuses deferred over time. Some will be over a couple months, some over the course of the season, some into future years.
"By and large, when a guy signs, you're going to wait until the contract is approved before you pay him his money."
So maybe we've milked that little scenario for all it's worth, but there are still a few other things we've always wondered. Such as...
Q. Quarterbacks now get play calls from the sideline through speakers in their helmets. How good is the sound? Do you have to deal with static or fuzzy audio?
A. It's actually not bad. There's little problem with interference, static or break-up of signal. A noisy crowd can definitely factor in, however.
"It's about like what you'd hear over a loudspeaker," said Bucs QB Shaun King, describing the quality of the sound. "It can be hard to hear when there's a lot of noise on the outside, but it's pretty clear."
King's helmet has a speaker in each ear, over which a coach with a radio on the sideline can transmit the plays. The NFL goes to great lengths to secure the particular frequency being used, checking all radios in the stadium on game day to make sure there is no overlap. There are, of course, malfunctions at times, but when the sound is on, it's apparently of pretty good quality.
Q. The Bucs and their opponents come out each Sunday in sparkling, clean uniforms. Does each team have a limitless supply of unis that a player can go through during the season?
A. No. At least in the Bucs' case, the answer is four. Take jerseys, for instance.
"They have the one that they wear and the backup in a trunk," said Buccaneers equipment manager Darin Kerns. "So they each have four, two red and two white. If one gets damaged beyond repair, we can get another one made up during the week, but we rarely have to do that."
So, despite the fact that uniform jerseys and pants can take a terrible beating by grass, dirt, blood and helmet paint, the team's equipment staff manages to have them looking like new for the next game.
"We use Ecolab, which is a leader in the industry for cleaning up blood," said Kerns. "They do a lot of medical work; they do the laundry mats for hospitals, so they know how to get blood out. They've developed stain removers that work extremely well.
"If it's a really extreme situation, we might have to look for other solutions. For instance, if the stain's on a number, we might replace the number, since it's sewn on. We might just put a new '5' on."
Q. Coaches and players are always talking about 'going back to watch the tape.' Just how many tapes do you all go through in a week?
A. Though the number used to approach half a thousand, it is now more in the double digits neighborhood.
"We use about 70 to 80 Beta SP tapes a week, covering the game and then the practices," said Bucs Video Director Dave Levy. "It used to be around 500 before we got the Avid system."
The Avid system is spread throughout team headquarters, with a station in each coach's office, and it allows for easier and quicker editing of 'cut-ups', or tapes pieced together to show similar situations. That is, a coach might ask for a cut-up showing only what the defense did on plays on which they blitzed.
"We do about 30 different cut-ups for each side of the ball each week," said Levy. "We've got both end zone and sideline views to work with, including practice."
And many of the tapes are re-used of course, after they have been run through the quick-erase machine. Of course, master copies are kept of all the tapes shot during the actual games down through the years.
Well, that concludes our little search mission for the day, but there's little doubt that we've left dozens - nay, hundreds - of 'mysteries' unspoken. Perhaps there is something about the Buccaneers, or the NFL, that has always mystified you.
If so, here's your chance to get an answer. By using the form below, you can submit a topic that has always mystified you; if we receive enough questions that call for investigation, we'll once again track down the experts and post the answers in a story down the line.