Driving home from work yesterday, with a locker room full of successfully-shined cleats in my rear-view mirror, I passed a minivan that at first glance appeared to be like all the other minivans on the road.
As I pulled alongside the family vehicle, I noticed a scroll-like flag hanging in the back passenger-side window. The flag was black-and-gold. Can you guess what professional sports team it was representing?
Yes, this was apparently a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, with a Florida license plate, driving down Dale Mabry during this particular rush hour. Now, I'm not suggesting this Tampa soccer mom was jumping on the bandwagon, but there do seem to be a few more Steeler flags and Terrible Towels making their appearances in local vehicles this week, don't there?
(And I'm not stereotyping this driver – it was a woman, there was a child in the back seat and there was a soccer ball sticker on the back window.)
Let's be clear: Steeler fans strike the Answer Man as solid, unwavering types. Many of them with mustaches. There probably isn't a huge difference in the fan base when the team is good or bad. Still, every team sees its bandwagon take on a few extra riders when things are going particularly well – and they couldn't go much better than a three-game road playoff winning streak followed by a Super Bowl XL victory over Seattle.
All of which leads us to...what's with this term "bandwagon" anyway?
Seriously, we all use that term incessantly, many of us as derogatorily as possible, when our favorite team pulls out of the doldrums and starts attracting fans like ants to a picnic. It's a little weird, because we all want our teams to be as well-supported as possible, so it should be the more the merrier. But to point out "bandwagon fans" is to mark ourselves as diehards, and that's what we all want to be.
But what does the term mean? Why would the act of suddenly and enthusiastically supporting a cause be called "jumping on the bandwagon?" Hey, we're here to answer questions, right? Let's look it up!
Well, having started that process, I've got to say this: Man, the internet is great! Amateur etymologists must love it. An etymologist, by the way, is somebody who is concerned with the origins of words (to put it simply). I could have let you look that up, but the idea of someone looking for the meaning of the word "etymologist" seemed a bit too ironic to me.
But if you want to dabble in etymology these days, you just have to Google it up. The Answer Man found the origin of the term "jumping on the bandwagon" in mere seconds. Here's the explanation I saw on four different sources:
It originates from an old political practice in which a candidate would set up a parade through town. He would hire a band to ride in the parade on a wagon, all for the purpose of attracting attention. If he could get voters to jump on that wagon, it was an obvious show of support and voter allegiance.
Okay, here's you right about now: "Whoo-ee, Mr. Internet surfer. Aren't you impressive? But why are we talking about bandwagons at this moment?"
Well, you needn't be so hypothetically rude. See, in response to a question below, I discussed a cognitive distortion called confirmation bias. And, yes, right about now a bunch of readers, who came for some football news and instead ran across a stupidly pretentious phrase like "cognitive distortion called confirmation bias" are hastily clicking over to ESPN.com. But if you want to know how the two topics fit together, scroll down to question two.
Anyway, in making sure that I was using the phrase "confirmation bias" correctly, I ran across a list of cognitive biases that included one called the "bandwagon effect" (oh, it's all coming together now!). Here's what that apparently means to sociologists and psychologists:
"The tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same."
Hmmm. Does that really sound like the bandwagon concept as it applies to sports? Maybe there's a good reason for that definition in sociology, but it doesn't seem like an exact fit for the sports phenomenon.
When you get peeved at the soccer mom with the Steelers' flag, are you upset that she is doing something because a lot of other people are doing it? No, of course a lot of other people are doing it. You get upset because you think she is only flying that flag because it's suddenly easy and fun to be a Steelers fan (you assume). She's not a true, through-thick-and-thin fan (you assume). She didn't stick it out during the hard years (you assume). She's only a fan now because it's entertaining to ride with a winner (you assume). Her last-minute, uninvested support demeans your lifetime of Steeler love.
Think this is all a little much sociology for a column purportedly centered on football? Well, what if we started pulling out acronyms like BIRG and CORF? The Seattle Post-Intelligencer did just that on the eve of the Super Bowl, discussing the way fans might feel before, during and after the Seahawks' first championship-game appearance. Hey, when there's a Super Bowl around, there's no end to the angles people will seek to cover it. The P-I ambitiously sought to explain why "fair-weather fans" (that's a funny phrase when applied to Seattle) might be behaving the way they were as the big game approached.
That P-I article had a quick explanation for the bandwagon phenomenon: "People like to associate themselves with success, while naturally, we like to keep losers at arm's length."
(Crazy segue alert...) Which is why the Buccaneer Answer Man is starting his fourth Series and posting his 55th column today. My thanks to you for that. Our ongoing give-and-take, fan and football man, has been a continuing success. Let's keep it that way as we head into another eventful offseason.
(And, hey, if you're not here for these stream-of-consciousness, all-topic rambles, then why are you here? Oh, to get your questions answered? Well then...)
On to this week's questions!
- Kenny of Ottawa, Ontario asks:
**Hey Answer Man, u are the bomb when it comes to Buccaneers.com, answering all the questions that come your way.
Monte Kiffin is the bread and butter when it comes to Defensive Coordinators. I believe he was signed from the University of Nebraska when he made his jump to the NFL coaching ranks (feel free to correct me if I am wrong). My question is this: Did Monte Kiffin ever play professionally and if so whom did he play for and what position was he?**
Answer Man: To be linked in terms of job effectiveness with Monte Kiffin is an honor the Answer Man definitely does not deserve. (Didn't keep me from printing this letter, though, did it?)
This is a rather easy one to start the column with (we'll get into the statistical jumping-through-of-hoops below), but it's always good to take a closer look at the premier defensive coordinator of the last decade.
Kiffin, who has guided the Buccaneers to a top-10 defensive ranking for, ridiculously, nine straight years, did not actually go straight from Nebraska to the NFL. Get to that in a minute. He did, however, play professionally, just not in the NFL.
After playing both offensive and defensive line at Nebraska from 1959-63, Kiffin had to sit out what would have been his first professional season due to a knee injury. Ready to play again in 1965, he landed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and spent one season in the Canadian Football League, playing defensive tackle.
That was the extent of Kiffin's professional playing career, but it cleared the way for a four decades of success on the coaching level. It all started back at his alma mater, where he returned to serve as a defensive assistant for seven years (1966-72) before being promoted to defensive coordinator. After four years in that post, he moved to Arkansas to fill the same position for two years, then became the Razorbacks assistant head coach in 1979. During his time on the Huskers' staff, Kiffin worked under Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, and he helped produce back-to-back national championships in 1970-71. At Arkansas, he was on Lou Holtz's staff.
From 1980-82, Kiffin was the head coach at North Carolina State. After that, he made the move to the NFL.
Kiffin's 23 years as an NFL coach began in Green Bay, where he was the linebackers coach under Bart Starr. He moved to Buffalo the next year and in the same position helped tutor linebacker Jim Haslett, later the head coach in New Orleans. Starting in 1986, he spent eight of the next nine years on the Vikings' staff, jumping to the Jets for one year in 1990. His last stop before landing in Tampa was with the New Orleans Saints, where he was the defensive coordinator under Jim Mora (Haslett was on that staff, too). When Tony Dungy, previously the defensive coordinator in Minnesota and thus already a believer in Kiffin's abilities, got the head job in Tampa in 1996, he hired Kiffin to be his DC, and the rest is history.
I see you're from Ottawa, Kenny. Did you secretly know that Kiffin's playing career happened in Canada, and you wanted to get in a little plug for the CFL? If so, well done. Either way, we got to shine the light once again on Kiffin's amazing career.
- BuccanBobby of San Francisco, California asks:
Dear Answer Man...you've got me in 3rd and long (odds that you'll continue to ignore my question regarding the Bucs D for a 3rd time). Question: If you break down 3rd and long into (2) categories: 3rd & 4-9 yards needed for a 1st and 3rd & >10 yards needed for a 1st, where does the Bucs D rank (versus div-conf-league-you pick) in term of % of 1st downs given up when it's 3rd and > 10? It seems that they give up in inordinate number of 1st downs in that situation. What do the stats say? My guess is bottom 3rd of league. Also, since I lost the bet to my wife (that you would actually attempt to answer my 3rd & long question on try #2), I promised to ask this "fashion related" question for her: It seems that every aspect of the players' uniform comes in a variety of sizes, except their socks. They're all one size...too long! She says that the socks are all one size, I say there are (2) sizes, long & longer? What's up with the socks? Super Bowl next year!!! Thanks.
Answer Man: Well, BuccanBobby, if that is your real name, I almost skipped this one on principle. I mean, does it seem like an effective strategy on your part to get a question answered by haranguing me over a couple of previously missed e-mails? Are you trying to make me look bad? I guess 8,000-10,000 words every week isn't enough for you if your question isn't in there somewhere.
And I didn't neglect to "attempt" it in recent weeks, I just didn't pull it out of my bulging e-mail bag. I don't "attempt;" I "answer," and I simply didn't answer your previous e-mails. Sue me.
Still, you've hooked me with the statistics-based question (I love those) and you seem to have remained fairly good-natured about the whole thing, so I'll throw you a bone. Plus, if you nag your wife at all like you nag me, then I feel sorry for that fine woman and I want to help out with her question.
Yours first. You know, the Buccaneers' public relations department actually breaks down the team's statistics into about 30 extra pages not provided by the league, such as situational records (example: The Bucs were 9-0 when leading after three quarters in 2005), goal-to-go production (example: The Bucs scored 14 touchdowns and two field goals on the 18 drives on which they reached a first-and-goal in 2005) and length-of-drive information (example: The Bucs scored one touchdown and two field goals off the 19 drives that started inside their own 10).
Two of those breakdown pages concern third downs, with success rates determined in specific situations, such as first half versus second half. One of those sheets breaks it down by yards, so I can easily give you the Bucs' numbers and their opponents' numbers in the breakdowns you prescribe.
(A clarification: You broke it in two categories, for now setting aside the "short" third downs of 1-3 yards. That's fine. But your two categories were 4-9 yards and >10 yards (greater than 10 yards). That leaves out third downs of exactly 10 yards. Since the Bucs' breakdown sheet has categories of 1-3, 4-6, 7-10, 11-20 and 21-plus, I'm going to initially put the exactly-10-yard scenario in with your first group. So the split is 4-10 and greater-than-10.)
In 2005, the Buccaneers' defense allowed 49 of 136 third downs in the 4-10 range to be converted, for a "success" rate by the opposition of 36.0%. The Bucs' defense allowed four of 34 third downs in the 11-and-up range to be converted, for a success rate of 11.8%.
At the same time, Tampa Bay's offense converted 45 of 121 in the 4-9 range and five of 46 in the 11-and-up range. Those are success rates of 37.2% and 10.8%
Now, those numbers look pretty close to me. There wasn't an appreciable difference between how the Bucs' defense fared in those two situations and how opposing defenses fared. That's a start towards answering your question, Bobby, but it admittedly still has a few flaws.
First, I think you really intended to included third-and-10s with the longer group, whereas I have them here with the shorter group. If a lot of the defensive failures in the 4-10 group were on exactly third-and-10, then the above numbers would be misleading in answering your question. So I guess I better dig a little more and find all the third-and-10s, so that we may switch them into the longer group.
Okay, done. On exactly third-and-10, the Bucs' defense allowed six conversions in 16 attempts. Now, that does add a little credence to your theory, Bobby. That's a 37.5% success rate by the opposition, which is a bit high considering the Bucs allowed a 35.0% conversion rate overall. But, still, that's a relatively small difference, and on all third downs of 10 or more yards the Bucs' defense allowed nine conversions in 50 tries, a success rate of 18.0%.
Second, you wanted those numbers compared to all the defenses in the league, not compared against the Bucs' offensive success against the defenses they played in 2005. Well, I tracked that down, too.
You predicted that we would be in the bottom third on that list, right?
The Bucs' 18.0% rate of allowing conversions on third downs of 10 or more yards in 2005 ranked – drum roll, please – 13th in the NFL. Thirteenth. Not only is that not bottom third, it's not even bottom half. Furthermore, the Bucs were closer to moving into the top third than falling into the bottom third. What I mean by that is, if you subtracted, say, three percentage points from that 18.0%, the Bucs would jump all the way to ninth, but if you added three percentage points, the Bucs would fall only to 19th.
I don't know if I'm totally disproving your core theory, Bobby, but it doesn't seem to me as if these numbers show anything drastic about the Buccaneers' third-down efficiency in longer-yardage situations in 2005. If I can be so bold, I would suggest that you might be falling victim to a cognitive distortion known as confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias, in a technical line I'm stealing from Wikipedia, "is a phenomenon wherein decision-makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or under-weigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis."
In plainer English, what I'm saying is that you are probably remembering very clearly every third-and-long that the Bucs' defense gave up and unconsciously dismissing all the times the Bucs' defense stifled the opposition in that situation.
Let me be clear that I'm not insulting you. Everyone experiences this. I'll give you an example.
During the 2005 season, the Answer Man became convinced that the Buccaneers' offense always ran the ball when it was second-and-10. Always. I would watch a game with friends and when a second-and-10 came up I would pontificate to those around me, "Watch, it will be a run." And it almost always was.
At least, that's what my perception told me. Well, I tested that theory the other day.
The Buccaneers' video department can quickly break down any number of scenarios, using their software to filter all the plays of a given season into categories. So we looked at every Buccaneer offensive second-and-10 in 2005 and sorted them into runs and passes. As the video pro held his finger above the enter button to perform the sort and reveal the numbers, I predicted it would be a run on 75% of the plays.
Well, a moment later, I was stunned. While I'm not comfortable revealing some specific self-scouting info like our run-pass tendencies in certain situations, I can tell you on a general basis that I was off by quite a bit. I could hardly have been more wrong.
Clearly, I had fallen victim to the confirmation bias (and, I guess, the disconfirmation bias, too, wherein a person uncritically accepts information that supports his theory and very critically scrutinizes information that does not.) It happens. But, hey, why let the facts get in the way of a really strong feeling?
Well, that was fun. I'm glad you were persistent with your e-mails, Bobby. On to the next…
Oh, wait, your wife's question. Can't leave that out.
Okay, so on this bet you've got two sizes and your wife has one, right?
You're both wrong, which means I win. Buccaneers Equipment Manager Tim Sain makes five different sizes of socks available to the players for their game day uniforms. They may have numerical size designations, but he categorizes them thusly, from smallest to largest: receiver, running back, linebacker, lineman and monster.
What's my prize?
- Percival Campbell of Tampa, Florida asks:
**Answer Man, Series 3, Vol. 9, question 5 - I'm surprised you didn't mention this. What NFL Legend completed his first pass to himself?
Series 3, Vol. 10, question 9 - Why does the game clock sometimes resume after a player goes out of bounds and the ball gets reset? Also, where can I find the full transcript to question 3 in volume 9?**
Answer Man: Well-constructed question, Percival! Nicely done.
That first question to which you refer came from last week, when we talked in Volume 9 about quarterbacks catching their own passes after deflections. Both Chris Simms and Brian Griese have done it during the last two years, and Brad Johnson memorably did it for a touchdown while with the Vikings.
What legend did the same thing? Oooh, oooh! Pick me, pick me! I know!
That would be none other than Brett Favre, and even better, it was against the Buccaneers. Dude, I'm not going to go through my archives right now, but I have a strong sense of déjà vu right now. I think I've described this play before.
Anyway, the date was September 13, 1992, and the Bucs were in the process of a 31-3 shellacking of the visiting Packers. Don Majkowski had started the game for Green Bay, but Favre came in when Majkowski got hurt. The first pass Favre threw was deflected, and he caught the rebound, only to be tackled for a loss of seven yards.
Want a few more details? Majkowski was hurt on the last play of the first half when he was sacked by Santana Dotson, a rookie at the time who later became a Super Bowl-winning teammate of Favre's in Green Bay. Favre started the second half and on his first regular-season play threw a pass that was tipped by defensive end Ray Seals, a man with freakishly-large calf muscles that would have made Johnny Drama swoon in Entourage. Favre caught the ball but was tackled by linebacker Broderick Thomas. Two plays later, Favre scrambled for 14 yards on third-and-15, but a late hit by Darrell Fullington tacked on 15 yards and kept alive a drive that would lead to the Packers' only points on Chris Jacke's 33-yard field goal.
By the way, this makes for a great trivia question at the bar or around the office. After getting your reminder, I asked it this way of some of my co-workers: "What first-ballot Hall of Famer caught Brett Favre's first career regular-season completion?" Nobody got it (they weren't too happy when I revealed the answer, either).
Clever work on your second question, but I made it question three, not nine, because I'm calling the shots here. Also, you may have noticed, this is now Series 4. I had decided a few weeks back to start the new series when the 2005 season ended, and to me that was the Super Bowl.
Anyway, what gives with the clock re-starting? This might be one of the most common misconceptions about NFL football. In fact, I answered a question like this one almost exactly a year ago, in Series 2, Volume 6, but it's worth another quick look.
See, the clock does stop when the ball is carried out of bounds by a player, but only long enough for the officials to get the ball and spot it for the next play. Then the official motions with his arm and the clock is started again.
That is the default rule. It is actually the exception when the clock starts until the ball is snapped again. Check out Rule 4, Section 3, Article 2 from our favorite printed document, the NFL Rulebook:
Except on a change of possession or after the two-minute warning of the first half and the last five minutes of the game, on a play from scrimmage whenever a runner goes out of bounds, the game clock is started when an official spots the ball at the inbounds mark and the referee gives the ready signal.
See, it's the exception when the clock stops completely on a runner going out of bounds. Only on a turnover and in the closing minutes of each half is that the case. That was a rule change of a few years ago designed to speed up the game a bit.
Finally, can you have the full transcript from question three last week? No. A fan named Mike got what he needed to say about the Washington game off his chest, and it was at least read by one person (me). We'll leave it at that.
- Joe of St. Petersburg, Florida asks:
Ok, is it just me or do the Bucs have an extra tough schedule next year? What's the deal, we play a majority of this years playoff contenders and some teams that have had an off year (Ravens, Eagles)
Answer Man: Is it true? Well, we won't really know for sure until late next year. But it is true that of the Bucs' 16 games next season, half will be against teams that were in the playoffs this year (two against Carolina and one each against Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Washington and the New York Giants). Obviously, that includes both Super Bowl participants and three of the four conference championship teams.
Moreover, the Bucs' 16 opponents for 2006 had a combined record of 138-118 in 2005, for a rather healthy winning percentage of .539. Using that type of equation, you can rank all of the team's on their 2006 strength of schedule, based on the 2005 records of their opponents. If you did, you'd find that the Bucs' schedule ranked as the fourth toughest, behind the Saints (.566), Giants (.543) and Bengals (.543).
It's obvious why those four teams are at the top of the list (and the Steelers are fifth). All of them come from divisions that placed two teams in the playoffs, so each of these teams has at least two games against a division opponent. Look at the Bucs – they've got four games against the 11-5 Panthers and 8-8 Falcons (though they also get two against the 3-13 Saints). The Saints' tough schedule is mainly the work of six games against the Bucs, Panthers and Falcons and none against the 3-13 team (themselves) to balance it out.
There is a noticeable difference, however, between the Bucs' strength of schedule (.539) and the Panthers (.509), considering that the two teams would have the exact same in-division opponent records. But the Bucs can hardly complain about that, because they did it to themselves. See, by winning the NFC South, they drew their two strength-of-schedule teams against the first-place teams in the NFC West and the NFC North. That would be Seattle (13-3) and Chicago (11-5). Meanwhile, the second-place Panthers get the second-place teams in both of those division. That would be St. Louis (6-10) and Minnesota (9-7). Otherwise, the Bucs and Panthers share the rest of their non-division opponents – the eight teams in the NFC East and the AFC North.
But there is a very strong argument that none of this means much, anyway. After all, we are using 2005 numbers to determine a team's 2006 strength of schedule. We are, therefore, assuming that all of the successful teams of 2005 will remain that way in 2006. When does that ever happen?
Look at the last couple seasons. After the 2004 season, the Chicago Bears' strength of schedule would have been determined in part on the 7-9 and 5-11 records, respectively, of the Panthers and Bucs. If those were thought to be two of the "easier" games on Chicago's schedule, they didn't look that way in November and December, as the Bucs and Panthers were on their way to 11-5 marks (though Chicago did win both of those games). Conversely, the Bears had two games against the Packers, who would have pumped up Chicago's 2005 strength of schedule by going 10-6 in 2004. But the Packers were 4-12 in '05 and Chicago beat them twice in the homestretch.
In other words, there are too many assumptions built into that strength of schedule idea, at least when applying it forward (by contrast, it is a valuable tool when used for, say, draft order, because it shows which teams compiled their records against a tougher slate of games). So don't read too much into it, because it is almost certain that some of the teams on the Bucs' 2006 schedule will prove to be better than expected (like Chicago last year) and some will be worse (like Buffalo).
Rather, let's say that a schedule that includes both Super Bowl teams, up-and-comers like Cincinnati and Washington and wild cards like Philadelphia and Baltimore is exciting.
- Wess Jacobs of Fort Myers, Florida asks:
Answer Man, After reading your entire 8000+ word diatribe, ahem, I mean column, a question came to mind. On those vibrating football games of our youth, (note: trying to be nice after intentionally slamming you) when the white felt football fell out, what was the ruling. Did the felt, er, ball go over to the other team automatically? Did the other team have to touch the ball to gain possession? When did the play end, when the ball popped out or when another vibrating player touched it? What if a player fumbled the felt ball inside of two minutes left in the half but another member of his team recovered it? What is the ruling if your kid sister spilled her Kool-Aid on the field of play? What if the vibrating player crossed the end zone with both feet, er, magnetic surface, but then in the act of falling the felt ball came out? Does this rule apply only in the end zone or does that have no impact on the ruling. Yes, I'm still trying to heal while looking forward to next year. Have a great week, I still love your bloviating, er, columns.
Answer Man: Okay, starting with your first question:
- If Team "A" loses the ball via an interception or fumble, the ball is considered dead at the line of scrimmage where that play began, and Team "A" is credited with all the yardage to that point. Team "B" then takes over at the 50-yard line. 2. No. See above. 3. No. See above. 4. No recovery possible. See above. 5. If Kool-Aid was spilled by a relative of the player on offense, the ball is considered dead and the game forfeited to the defensive player. If Kool-Aid is spilled by a relative of the player on defense, the ball switches position. If any human players are electrocuted during the Kool-Aid spill or clean-up, the game is over. 6. Figures may fall during the course of a play. If the fallen figure is a ball carrier, then the play is immediately dead and marked by the forward most portion of the base (not the figure). If eligible, a fallen player may be angled and adjusted and stood up right at the spot of the base.
By the way, answers 1 and 6 above are actual rules for Electric Football. The Answer Man could not make that up.
Not surprisingly, given that this toy is nostalgic, fun and whimsical, it still has a fairly healthy following, despite the availability of very sophisticated football video games. There are Electric Football tournaments, conventions, and if I'm reading some of this stuff right, even controversies of a sort. Apparently, the bases can be "boiled" to improve their play, or something like that.
Bet you didn't think I was going to answer this one, did you Wess? Just felt like bloviating. I was in a blovious mood, you might say. I feel fully bloviated now.
- Jay of Clearwater, Florida asks:
If a player like [INSERT NAME HERE] gets cut or traded and goes to another team, even though he still has a few years and several million dollars on his original contract, would his original team still pay him anything or would he basically get paid just from his new contract? Thanks for your help....Jay.
Answer Man: As you can see, Jay, I chose to edit out the name of the specific player to which you referred. After all, you said if a "player like" that individual was cut or traded, so a specific, real-life identity is not important here. Let's just tap-dance around any tampering issues by keeping this completely in the hypothetical.
The answer, Jay, is that a team definitely still pays when it cuts or trades a player with a large part of his contract left, just not in actual money.
NFL contracts are not guaranteed, other than the signing bonuses. A signing bonus is guaranteed, in effect, because it has already been paid. You can't get it back (well, you can in some cases if you can prove some kind of breach of contract, but not in your normal cut or trade situation). But the base salary that a team has contracted to pay a player in say, 2008, is not guaranteed. That means if the player is cut in 2007, he's not going to get the money that his salary called for in 2008.
So Bob Smith signs a five-year $10 million contract with the Sacramento Guinea Pigs in 2006, right? Five million of that is a signing bonus. The rest is a series of $1 million base salaries for the next five years. (This is an enormously simplified illustration.) Okay, Bob plays the 2006 and 2007 for Sacramento and pockets $7 million - $5 million right off the bat for his signing bonus and $1 million each in '06 and '07. But he is cut following the '07 season. He will not get paid any more money by Sacramento. However, the G-Pigs are on the hook, cap-wise, for the $3 million of prorated signing bonus that were supposed to apply in 2008-10. So, not only is their salary cap room reduced by a million dollars (Smith would have cost them $2 million against the cap had he stayed on the roster, not the $3 million that accelerates from his cap proration), but that is what they call 'dead money.' You're paying, in cap room, for a player who isn't there, and that hurts.
How about Smith? Well, we're assuming in this scenario that he's a vested veteran, which means he is not subject to the waiver wire. To join another team, he will have to work out another contract. His new team will pay him whatever they agree upon, not what was called for in the contract with his original team. That contract no longer applies.
Contracts can pass from team to team. If a player who is not yet a vested veteran gets cut, he has to go through the waiver process. If a team claims him, they get not only the player but his existing contract, and all the cap hit it implies. Generally, though, these are younger, less established players who don't have big contracts anyway.
Before the usual end-of-the-column quickies, I have one that sort of falls in between. There's no new information here, but it's a continuation of a discussion from last week to which I had to give a somewhat longer response.
- Steve Klein of Sarasota, Florida asks:
Dear Answer Man, Your answer to my question seemed like you were on the take from the TV networks, etc.!!! I think you missed the overall theme of my question. The NFL seems dedicated to a level playing field for everyone with the Super Bowl winner picking last in the draft, etc., etc. My schedule rotation would seem the most equitable for all teams. Also, the bye week suggestion was in the middle of the season with all teams still having 8 games to go. They could have it after the 5th week or whatever. It should just be the same for everyone. By the way, this is the NFL and not MLB! Who cares about a baseball game scheduled on the same day or some Monster truck event! Your answer that the home/away couldn't be done is because they are not trying to do it. It obviously could be done because the schedules are even for everyone. I agree it might not be possible to have the division games evened out to make the schedule work. I hope I cleared up the theme of my question. It is such an easy concept that I can't believe people haven't thought of it.
Answer Man: Okay readers, your assignment for today is to go back to my last column, which contained Steve's original question, and see whether I did indeed miss his "theme," or whether Steve is reacting this way because he doesn't like my answer.
I will say that I can understand your opening line here, Steve. I did come down rather heavily on the side of the status quo. If I sounded like a league apologist I'm, uh, sorry. But I do stand by my opinions in last week's answer.
I do not believe I missed your "theme," though. Is it correct to say that you would like to see every NFL team scheduled on an alternating home-and-away basis throughout the season, with no back-to-back home or away games at any time? And that you prefer this plan because it eliminates what you perceive to be unfairness in consecutive road games? And that this would be easy to accomplish given the right mathematical minds/computers?
And on the subject of the bye week, that the only fair way to do one is to give all the teams the same week off, because later bye weeks are better than earlier ones?
That's what I'm getting from your last question and this one. What point am I missing?
You say "who cares" about baseball. I'm not asking you to care about any other sport, I'm only asking you to understand that previously scheduled events in certain venues can play into scheduling decisions. The NFL is indeed a powerful, respected and beloved league, and its influence is surely huge, but the rest of the world doesn't just step aside in every instance for the league's desires. When the Saints were forced to play on the road this year, they didn't get to play every game in San Antonio, as they might have liked. On some weekends, the stadium wasn't available. Remember how big of a deal it was to reschedule a car convention in New Orleans after the 2001 season, in which the 9/11 attacks pushed the NFL schedule back by a week?
There are far more issues to be taken into account when scheduling 256 games over 17 weeks than a simple mathematical formula. If you choose not to believe that, that is your prerogative. You say it can be done. My response was to point out that if it could be done for every team simultaneously, you would think it would happen for at least one team occasionally. The Bucs have had one season such as you describe one time in 30 years, and the NFL hasn't had one in the last decade. You see, it's not a simple mathematical issue to me, so I don't think a mathematical argument leads to the answer. I used empirical evidence.
And my answer to your bye week proposal was even more straightforward. There is no way the league would ever put all teams on the same bye week because rest and recovery is not the actual purpose of the bye week. The purpose is to extend the season by one week, so that there is regular-season football on television for 17 straight weekends. There is no point in the whole league taking an entire week off in the middle of the season. For practical purposes, from a team's point of view, the bye week is about having some extra time to get healthy. But that is a byproduct of the bye week, not the reason it exists. If you try to make the byproduct fair but in the process destroy its reason for existing, then you aren't really solving any problem.
Am I a league flak? Well, I'm certainly not paid to be one. If I seem like I am on this one because I agree with and understand the league's reasoning, then feel free to think of me in those terms.
I'm sure you and I will continue to disagree on this one, Steve. It's up to the rest of the readers to decide if I gave your question a thorough and reasonable answer.
Okay, these are the real quickies. As usual, these are questions that either require very little elaboration or have been addressed in previous columns.
- Joseph of St. Petersburg, Florida asks:
Has any NFL team ever gone to the Super Bowl at home?? For example if the Detroit Lions made it to the Super Bowl this year and played it at home.
Answer Man: I've touched on this one a few times, basically because I didn't get it exactly right the first time. For the latest, check out Series 2, Volume 22. In a nutshell, the answer is no, but two teams have gotten pretty close.
- Arguie Satterwhite of Columbia, in just about any possible state, asks:
How did Tampa Bay get the name Buccaneers?
Answer Man: Usually when our readers identify a town but no state, they're in Florida and assuming we know of every spot on the state map. And there is a Columbia County, Florida. But, really, how many states don't have a Columbia? It's usually pretty close to Springfield.
Anyway, Arguie Satterwhite (love that name), we covered this one way back in November of 2004, in Volume 16. I warn you in advance, it's not a very interesting answer.
- Skyler Rapier of Henderson, Florida asks:
Who had the number 1 D this year?
Answer Man: That would be the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay led the NFL with an average of 277.8 yards allowed per game. There are other ways to judge a defense, of course, but the NFL ranks by yardage, and the Bucs have now topped that list in two of the last four years.
Thanks for the softball to go out on, Skyler.
Okay, this week's column was definitely about quality over quantity. I only addressed seven non-quickie questions, about five fewer than usual. But thanks to my typical rambling, that still produced 7,000 words. The point is, there were a number of questions still in the bag that I didn't get to. I'll try to get to them soon, but you can continue to send in new ones. That's it for the Answer Man this week.