The fans' man on the inside noshes on the draft for a bit, then digs into a meaty pile of topics, from compensatory draft picks to the franchise tag (again!)
Last week, during a series of what the Answer Man hopes were quality replies to fan questions, I visited briefly on an epistle from Greg Whitus of Richmond, Virginia. Greg wanted to know about the Buccaneers' draft plans this coming April.
Now, in what was hopefully a polite manner, I explained that a) The Answer Man really isn't privy to the team's real draft strategy and b) Even if I was, I would be foolish to reveal it. The Answer Man's point in even printing Greg's letter was to try to head of more of its ilk. I thought I could save y'all some time in sending in similar questions.
That column went up in the early hours of Sunday morning. By 4:10 p.m. on Sunday (the first time the Answer Man checked his mailbox (the Answer Wife's honey-do list was kinda long last weekend), there were already 14 questions quite similar to Greg's.
I couldn't help but get a collective whiff of sarcasm from those 14 e-mails, not to mention the several dozen that followed over the course of the week. Yes, yes, I get it. You got me. Ha ha. Never again will the Answer Man try to dictate the content of your questions.
Of course, there were probably a few earnest questions in the bunch, and that's really not surprising. Is there an offseason event in all of sports better than the NFL Draft? Is there another draft in any sport that matches up with the NFL's big April weekend, and the months of speculation and prognostication that lead up to it?
In the end, the Answer Man can't blame any of you for sending in your draft-related questions, even if there are some I am compelled not to address. Keep 'em coming. Some of them I can answer, and some even send me into a few hours of draft-related musings.
Take the question sent in this week by Mike from Tampa (you've got to scroll all the way down to the Quickies at the bottom...it was an easy one for the Answer Man). He brought up the 1995 Buccaneer draft, which netted the team Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp. That got the Answer Man thinking about the best drafts in team history.
Let's take a quick look before we get to the questions. Here are just a few candidates, in chronological order (we skipped some good ones):
- 1976...Any draft that starts with Lee Roy Selmon is going to be a good one. Lee Roy's brother Dewey, a second-round pick, proved to be a great linebacker and RB Jimmy DuBose was a good contributor for three years. Fifth-round tackle Steve Wilson converted to center and held that starting spot for years. Even a 12th-round pick, RB George Ragsdale, was with the team four years and helped in the return game. Of course, you would expect a good number of rookies to make a first-year expansion team. * 1980...We had to skip '78, despite the great pick of QB Doug Williams. In '80, the team got big-play wideout Kevin House in the second round, LB Scot Brantley in the third, C Jim Leonard in the seventh, WR Gerald Carter in the ninth and LB Andy Hawkins in the 10th. All had long Buc careers. * 1987...This one might depend on how you feel about Vinny Testaverde, who is still playing, by the way. Ricky Reynolds in the second round might have been the Bucs' first truly standout cornerback. The top receiver in team history, Mark Carrier, came in the third round. Others who contributed heavily through the years included LB Winston Moss, TE Ron Hall, WR Bruce Hill, DT Curt Jarvis and DE Harry Swayne (converted to offensive line). * 1992...This one was deep, like the '87 draft. There was no first-round pick, so that hurts, but WR Courtney Hawkins, DT Mark Wheeler, TE Tyji Armstrong, QB Craig Erickson, CB Rogerick Green, DT Santana Dotson, FB Anthony McDowell, LB Elijah Alexander and RB Mazio Royster all made the team. Dotson, a fifth-round pick, was the league's rookie of the year after registering 10 sacks. * 1995...Sapp and Brooks are an incredible first-round pair, of course, perhaps two Hall-of-Famers. Not much else worked out that year, though. * 1997...Of two first-rounders, one worked out (Warrick Dunn) and one mostly didn't (Reidel Anthony). But the Bucs later got Frank Middleton, Ronde Barber, Alshermond Singleton and Patrick Harris, and both Barber and Singleton started in the Super Bowl. * 2004...Can you say Michael Clayton? Every player drafted by the Buccaneers this past year played in the regular season, and the possible development of LB Marquise Cooper, S Will Allen, G Jeb Terry and TE Nate Lawrie could make this a great one for the Bucs.
Hmm. Should we have included '78 just for Doug Williams? 1977 gave us Ricky Bell, David Lewis and Charley Hannah? Do Mike Alstott and Donnie Abraham make 1996 great. How will we eventually view the 1999 quartet of Anthony McFarland, Shaun King, Martin Gramatica and Dexter Jackson?
It's a tough topic, one deserving of a longer conversation. Are you listening Buccaneers.com Webmaster? Maybe this is a topic we should take to the fans in some manner on the web site.
As for us, that's enough draft talk for now. Let's get to the questions.
- Clint Connolly of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada asks:
Please explain applying the franchise tag to a player. Does this exempt this player's salary against the cap?
Answer Man: It most definitely does not mean that Clint, which is too bad, because that could really help a team out.
The basic effect of applying the franchise tag to an impending free agent is to bar him from signing with any other team. Obviously, that's quite a disadvantage for that player, so in turn he has to receive, at the very least, a one-year contract with a salary that matches the average of the top five highest paid players in the league at his position, or is 120% of his previous year's salary.
The first thing I should mention is that there are actually two types of franchise tags. There is the "exclusive rights" franchise tag, which keeps the player from negotiating with any other team; and there is the "standard" franchise tag, which allows the player to negotiate with another team, but the salary stipulation above must still be met, and more importantly, if he signs with another team that club must give his original team two first-round draft picks.
Despite the high salaries that come out of being "slapped" with the franchise tag (that's the way it usually written, with an obviously negative context), players often react negatively to it, preferring the opportunities of the free market. The idea behind including it in the original collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that took effect in 1993, ushering in free agency, was to allow teams at least a limited opportunity to hold on to their best players. Obviously, you have to pay to do so, and that salary does indeed count against the cap.
One thing we should reiterate from our previous discussion of the franchise tag, in Volume 22: Each team is only allowed to have one franchise tag in use at any given time. And if you sign a player while you have the tag on him, the tag is then committed to that player for the life of the contract, whether or not the player actually finishes the contract with your team. The Bucs will get their franchise tag back this year, when the length of DE Chidi Ahanotu's original contract runs out.
- Patrick Egan of Orlando, Florida asks:
**Hey Answer Man,
Answer me this, can you play in the NFL without going to college? My friend and I are having a discussion about it. He said that everyone in the NFL went to college, I say that while that may or may not be true, its not because they have to but because the easiest way to get to the NFL is to play in college. So can a player graduate high school, wait 3 years or whatever and then try out for a team?**
Answer Man: Hope you had something riding on this one, Patrick, because you win. Playing in college – or even going to college – is not a prerequisite to play in the NFL. It is not particularly common, but every now and then a player surfaces in the NFL without playing in college. The Bucs have even had three such players during their 29-year history; more on that below.
You are also basically on the mark with your supposition as to why no-college players in the NFL are relatively rare. The player personnel departments of NFL teams are flooded year-around with letters from various people who would like to try out, but it's difficult to even sniff an NFL workout without having videotape of yourself in game action. And the best way to put yourself on tape, of course, is to play in college.
If you don't play in college but want to try to make it in the NFL, you'll need to be able to show something - perhaps tape from semi-pro ball or the Arena Football League (though almost all of their players played in college, too) – or you'll need a really good contact with one of the teams. And, Patrick, you make another important point – a player would have to wait three years after finishing high school before he would be eligible to sign with any team, and even then he would first have to declare for the draft and go undrafted before he was a free agent (players who finish four years of college eligibility are automatically eligible for the next draft).
Probably the most well-known NFL player of the last 20 years who did not go to college was defensive tackle Eric Swann, who played nine seasons for the Cardinals and one final year (2000) for the Panthers. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Swann originally signed to play college ball at North Carolina State, but was ruled academically ineligible. Rather than enrolling as a "Prop 48" student, he moved to Raleigh and began working odd jobs and attending Wake Technical College. Swann eventually started playing for the Bay State Titans of the Minor League Football System, which didn't pay but did provide jobs for its players. Swann lugged pipe for an electric company and ran errands for a restaurant. He proved with the Titans that he was an NFL-caliber player, and the Cardinals drafted him sixth overall in 1991.
Depending upon how you want to qualify it, San Diego tight end Antonio Gates might be a good example as well. Gates did go to college, but he played basketball, not football. In fact, he helped Kent State make it to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament during his senior year.
As for the three Bucs who didn't play college football, two of them were kickers – Mirro Roder and Garo Yepremian – who played a total of 21 Tampa Bay games between them. The third, however, was a fairly prominent performer: defensive end Ray Seals. Though he was a top prep player in Syracuse, New York, Seals began working in a factory after finishing high school rather than attending college. He eventually started playing semi-pro ball with the Syracuse Express of the Eastern Football League, as a linebacker and tight end, and helped lead the Express to a national title in 1987. The next year, he got a tryout with the Buccaneers, and the rest was history. Though troubled by injuries, Seals played five seasons in Tampa (1989-93) and recorded a career-high 8.5 sacks in 1993.
- Sanjay Singh of Toronto, Canada asks:
Hey answer man, I know last article you said you didn't like answering questions about improbable situations (such as the ball hitting the crossbar). I have one of those questions for you this week. Please correct me if im wrong, but on a field goal, if you completely miss it and the opposing team catches it, they can return it like a punt. If that's wrong, then just completely ignore the rest of the question, but I'm pretty sure I'm right, I did it in Madden, if that counts for anything. Here's my big question, if you miss the field goal and someone on your team has blazing speed and somehow manages to catch the missed field goal, can they return it like someone on the other team would? So if they catch a missed field goal in the end zone, it would be a TD? If this is correct, has it ever been done before?
Answer Man: Sanjay, you were sailing along smoothly right through the Madden reference, but you ran aground after that. The short answer is that, yes, the defensive team can return a short field goal that comes down in the field of play, but the offensive team cannot. The more complicated aspects of the rule, as we'll examine below, are what made Leon Lett's colossal Thanksgiving blunder of 1993 possible. (Amazingly, you have to identify which Leon Lett blunder you're referring to, since this otherwise outstanding player also was responsible for one of the most memorable gaffes in Super Bowl history when he was stripped just short of the goal line by Buffalo WR Don Beebe.)
Let's picture, say, a 45-yard field goal (the ball is snapped from the 37 but held and kicked from the 45) is partially blocked but still goes forward. The ball comes down at the 10-yard line.
Now, if a member of the kicking team runs down and touches the ball, the play is over and the line of scrimmage for the receiving team comes back to the 45.
If a member of the receiving picks up the ball and kneels at that spot, the line of scrimmage for the receiving team is the 10. If he picks it up and runs with it to the 25, the line of scrimmage is the 25. This is why you rarely see this strategy used, because the "return man" would have to get past the spot where the ball was kicked to make it worthwhile.
There is only one way that the kicking team could get the ball back downfield after kicking it. A member of the receiving team would have to touch the ball (not counting a blocked kick at the line of scrimmage) but not possess it, after which the kicking team can then recover it and regain possession.
And that's exactly what Lett did on Thanksgiving Day in 1993. Losing 14-13, the Miami Dolphins lined up for a 41-yard field goal attempt on a snow-covered field in the closing seconds of the game. The kick was blocked but went forward toward the Dallas end zone. If the Cowboys simply stay away from the ball, they will have possession and the game will be over. Lett obviously didn't know this rule, and as a group of Dolphins surrounded the ball he tried to slide in and recover it. Instead, it bounced off his legs and the Dolphins recovered at the one-yard line with three seconds to play. Pete Stoyanovich then made a 19-yard, second-chance field goal to win the game.
And by the way, Sanjay, I never said I didn't like answering questions about improbable situations, only that it was refreshing to talk about a lesser-known rule that actually comes into play from time to time (unlike the pass-off-the-crossbar rule). Also, I would put your question into the likely-to-happen category, like last week's letter about refusing and then accepting a pass interference penalty after a reception is overturned by replay.
- Oliver of New Orleans, Louisiana asks:
Okay answer man, obviously you can not keep a player on his feet and move him backwards for a loss of yards, as he would be down wherever his forward motion stopped. Would it be legal to do the opposite to a player who has just intercepted a pass in the opponents end zone. By which I mean moving him forward, out of the end zone, to avoid a touchback. He would technically be moving forward of course.
Answer Man: A good rule of thumb in these situations is to consider what the common-sense ruling would be, because for all of its stultifying prose (aw shucks, just broke one of my New Year's Resolutions), that's what the NFL Rulebook boils down to in most cases.
That's true here. It would make sense that if a tackler can't benefit from pushing a player backward (a ballcarrier is given the spot of his greatest forward progress if he is forced backward during a tackle), then he can't benefit from pushing a player forward to get him out of the end zone and avoid a touchback.
Here, the reason is simple. If the intercepting player is making no attempt to advance the ball, then the play is dead and it's a touchback. Obviously, that's the case, if the opposing team is trying to push him forward.
Derek of Auburndale, Florida asks:
hey answer man I was just wondering has any team ever played in the Super Bowl in their own hometown/home stadium??? (for instance if the Jaguars had made it this year they would be playing in ALLTEL Stadium) thanks in advance answer man...
Answer Man: That was a popular topic of discussion around these parts during the 2000 season, for obvious reasons. The Buccaneers had narrowly lost in the NFC Championship Game the previous year and were hopeful of making another run at the big game after the 2000 season…which was scheduled to be played in Tampa's Raymond James Stadium!
The Bucs fell short that season, making the playoffs but falling in the Wild Card round at Philadelphia. Instead, the Giants represented the NFC and lost to the favored Baltimore Ravens, 34-7. Had the Buccaneers made the Super Bowl that year, they would have been the first team to play the game in their home stadium.
The Rams came the closest before they moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis. In 1979, the L.A. Rams beat Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship Game and met Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIV on January 20, 1980. The host city for that game was Los Angeles, but the game was played at the Rose Bowl, not the Rams' Memorial Coliseum home. Still, that satisfies the "hometown" portion of your equation. The Steelers won that game, by the way, 31-19.
The implied question, whether you meant to ask it or not Derek, is what type of home field advantage a team playing in its own stadium would have. The answer is hard to quantify. On one hand, it shouldn't make a huge difference on the makeup of the crowd. Each team in the game is given an equal percentage of the available tickets, and all the other teams in the league get a percentage too, albeit smaller. The crowd would seem to have a similar makeup to any other Super Bowl.
But one wonders what the effect of having the hometown team in the game would be. There is a significant amount of scalping that goes on with Super Bowl tickets, and presumably there would be a higher percentage of hometown fans willing to buy them, particularly considering the money they would be saving on travel and accommodations by staying home. The Answer Man guesses the crowd would end up tilted in favor of the hometown team, though not to the degree of a normal home game.
Answer Fan of Lakeland, Florida asks:
Happy New Year answer man! I am a big fan of Ryan Nece (as well as yours) and I think he does many wonderful things off field, as well as on the field. In researching a little info on him, I found this: "Bucs signed the rookie free agent from UCLA to a league minimum contract the day after the 2002 draft." What exactly is the league minimum? Does it vary from one position to another. Surely a punter doesn't make as much as a QB, even at minimum, right?
And on, and on, on and on...
Answer Man: This ambiguously-named fan had many, many more questions about Nece and contracts in general, but we had to cut it off at some point. Let's just use this as a chance to discuss minimum salaries in the NFL.
Now, there's one thing the Answer Man has to say first, and it might affect the quality of this answer for some of you. Since it is team policy never to discuss a player's salary, it goes hand-in-hand that we shouldn't print actual minimum salaries. For that reason, I'll be using approximate numbers that don't necessarily reflect the actual salary minimums in effect in the NFL. They're close enough, however.
First of all, Answer Fan, yes, the minimum salary applies to all players, no matter the position. As I'm sure you would suspect, the minimum NFL salary is still a nice chunk of change to live on...think in the $200,000-$400,000 range for a rookie. Here's the detail the Answer Man wants to make clear: The minimum salary for a player depends not on what position he plays but how many years he has been in the league. In other words, the minimum salary for a rookie might be $250,000 while the minimum for a fifth-year veteran might be $500,000. And it keeps going up.
Think about that for a second. If a team has to pay a 10th-year veteran at least, say, $700,000, but it can pay a rookie at the same position $200,000, wouldn't that make it harder for the veteran free agent to get a job? That veteran might be willing to play for $200,000, but he can't. That could conceivably make him a salary-cap casualty.
Ah, but the NFL has a solution for this. While you have to pay a veteran the minimum salary afforded by his years in the league, his cap hit counts for substantially less than that (can't get specific here). That was instituted a few years ago to make sure the sliding minimum scale wasn't necessarily pricing veteran free agents out of the business.
Oh, and you make one other very good point, Answer Fan. Ryan Nece does indeed do many, many wonderful things off the field. The fourth-year linebacker is one of the Bucs' most community-minded players, and he rarely turns down an invitation to get involved. Truly a wonderful human being.
Tom Solomon of Palm Harbor, Florida asks:
Re the postseason: Please explain how the players are paid. Do they get a regular game check just like the regular season or does everyone get the same pay? Are the amounts the same for each week or does it go up as you win? How about the Super Bowl - regular game check or set amount per player? Thanks loads for the info. Great job this year!!!
Answer Man: My pleasure, Tom.
A player's salary covers only the regular season. In the postseason, players receive 'shares' that go up the farther the team goes, and every player is paid the same (for the most part, see below). You might get $5,000 per player for a Wild Card loss, $10,000 per player for a Wild Card win, $20,000 per player for a Divisional win, etc. (All these numbers are very approximate.) The salary accumulates as a team keeps winning. An accumulative share for a player on a Super Bowl-winning team can easily reach six figures.
Most players receive full shares. There are some interesting situations that arise. If a player is traded or released at some point during the season, his team can vote him a share, or part of a share.
Overall, it's a nice bonus, but rest assured, winning that Super Bowl ring is worth much more to NFL players than the extra salary brought by the playoffs.
PJ Shevlin of Cape Coral, Florida asks:
Answer man, I'm in dire need of your ever-so-helpful assistance. I have been pondering the following question for so long and everyone I ask doesn't know. Here it is: Say the running back is running the ball. He's at the opposing team's three-yard line and as he's running he gets hit and the ball flies out of his hands and rolls out of the end zone. Where would they spot it? Would it be a turnover?
Answer Man: That's actually not that uncommon, PJ. And the rule is very straightforward: Yes, it's a turnover.
Allow me to share Rule 7, Section 5, Article 6, sub-note (c):
A fumble in the field of play that goes forward into the opponent's end zone and over the end line or sideline results in the ball being given over to the defensive team and a touchback awarded.
By the way, that's exactly what happened in the other big Leon Lett blunder. Beebe stripped the ball out of Lett's right hand and it went out of the end zone for a touchback. Buffalo's ball, and the Cowboys won 52-17, not 59-17.
Kenny Spindola of Wellington, (Kansas, New Zealand, Great Britain?) asks:
Answer Man, will the Bucs get any extra picks in this draft for losing Sapp and Lynch to free agency and when will the NFL let teams know if they get extra picks for losing free agents?. Thanks Answer Man
Answer Man: Not sure on that one yet, Kenny, but there are a couple things I can clear up.
First, the Bucs didn't actually lose Lynch to free agency as he was released by the team while still under contract. He won't count in the formula.
Second, you do not automatically get compensation for every free agent lost. You get compensation if you are judged, in simple terms, to have lost more to free agency than you gained the year before.
The league began awarding compensatory draft choices in 1993, the first year of the new collective bargaining agreement. The system is designed to recompense teams who have suffered a net loss in players in the previous year's free agency period.
The system isn't completely based on the sheer number of players coming and going on a specific club. A formula developed by the NFL Management Council is applied to the free agents signed and lost – based on salary, playing time and postseason honors – and not every free agent lost or signed is covered by the formula. Last year, in fact, Tampa Bay was one of two teams (the other was Green Bay) that received a compensatory pick despite signing and losing the same number of players covered by the formula.
The Bucs did sign an awful lot of free agents last spring, so I wouldn't hold my breath. We'll find out for sure in late March or early April. The news has come between March 25 and April 2 in each of the last three offseasons.
Henning Jahn of Flensburg, Germany asks:
Hi Answer-Man! The last 2 weeks there was a discussion about the drop-kick, which means the punter drops the ball to the ground and kicks a field goal (or at least tries to). Would it also be possible if you don't trust your kicker to make this 50-yard field goal to make a fake with the center long-snapping the ball into the kicker's hands and he punts it away? That would be a rather short return without a return man.
Answer Man: Henning, I'm surprised you haven't seen that very gambit in action. It's actually a fairly common occurrence.
Most teams call that a pooch punt. It is executed exactly as you describe. The team with the ball lines up in field goal formation, but instead of snapping it to the holder, the center shoots it diagonally into the hands of the kicker. The kicker then tries to punt it softly down towards the goal line. The Bucs didn't do this in 2004, but they did it several times in 2002-03.
The idea behind this maneuver is exactly as you describe – no return man. Still, you are usually going to do this around the 35 to 40-yard line, where it's a believable but difficult field goal. In most cases, a team's punter is probably just as adept at downing the ball near the goal line from this point on the field.
Alright, let's run through a few Quickies to finish this week's column. As usual, these are questions that are either not in need of much explanation or have been answered in one of my previous columns.
Sam Cardwell of Kokomo, Indiana asks:
My family and I are planning a vacation to Florida this summer. And we are planning to visit Raymond James Stadium. My question is are there tours that fans can take, or are they allowed to go in and visit the Stadium?
Answer Man: Hey, Sam, I know Florida is a popular destination in the summer, but how about swinging by Tampa in the fall? Then you could come to a Buccaneer game, and that would be the ultimate way to experience Raymond James Stadium.
Anyway, yes, there are tours of the stadium on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The stadium is actually run by the Tampa Sports Authority, not the Buccaneers, but they are more than happy to show you around.
For more information on tours of Raymond James Stadium, please visit their web site here.
Mike of Tampa, Florida asks:
Who was the Bucs' coach in 1995 during the 1995 draft when Brooks and Sapp were drafted...was it Wyche or Dungy at the time of the draft?
Answer Man: The Bucs' head coach in 1995 was Sam Wyche. Wyche was the coach from 1992-95; Tony Dungy from 1996-2001.
Jay Didriksen of Tampa, Florida asks:
The Bucs received an "undisclosed" draft pick for Jason Whittle from the Giants. From past trades I figure an undisclosed draft pick is usually a 4th to 7th round pick depending on player performance. What should we expect to receive for an undisclosed draft pick? As far as I can tell Whittle started for the Giants most of the year so can we expect at least a 5th rounder? How do these picks work? Has there ever been an early round pick that was "Undisclosed"?
Answer Man: My friends on the Bucs.com staff answered that question on Thursday. The Bucs' haul in the Whittle trade turns out to be a seventh-round pick this year and a sixth-rounder next year. The compensation in this trade was "undisclosed" on the wishes of the two teams involved. It was also "conditional," which is what made it based on performance or playing time, as you suggest.
Whittle started all 16 games for the Giants, which improved the Bucs' compensation. I really don't know if any team has ever chosen to make a trade for a high draft pick undisclosed, but I would doubt it.
Bill Hammond of Largo, Florida asks:
Can you tell me what the music played at the beginning of the game when the graphics show the Bucs' ship sinking the opponents' ship, sounds like an opera? Go Bucs
Answer Man: Carmina Burana, O Fortuna, by Orff. Excuse my brevity, but we've been over this topic several times before.
Mickey of Sarasota, Florida asks:
What was the Bucs' first year?
Answer Man: The first season of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFL's 27th franchise, was 1976. Did that one with my eyes closed (but my X-ray vision was on).
Please forgive me, Ron Farr, Fred and W.C., but I've got to wrap it up. Why do I ask for clemency from those three – all Buc fans from Tampa or Ft. Myers? They all sent in questions to the Answer Man that I planned to answer this week. I just couldn't get to them all, and I think this week's column is long enough.
Ron, I'll handle your question about the K and X guys on the sideline next week, and Fred, I'll do the same with your mom's question about the referees' hand gear. W.C., your Rulebook-quoting question about kickers with prosthetic limbs is a doozy; hopefully, I'll nail that one down next week, too.