Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Answer Man, Series 6, Vol. 3

The Buc fans' inside man splinters his intro into a new column, then attacks such reader-submitted topics as uniform materials, season expansion, the outlawed kickoff wedge, dream free agency scenarios and the NFL's version of goal-tending

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A funny thing happened on the way to my intro to the column this week.

Prompted by the huge number of e-mails I receive every week asking for my opinion and/or prediction of who the Buccaneers should/will take with their first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, I naturally began to answer a question that nobody had actually asked. Just my style.

See, as I've mentioned a few times in the past, I really can't attack that question head-on. I don't have access to the actual answer, and if I did, sharing it would lead quickly to my unemployment. I am leery even of giving an opinion on who the team should take, simply because this is the Bucs' official web site and I don't want to appear as if I'm offering an official opinion.

Still, I couldn't help but notice how many fans wanted to know whether the Bucs should trade up, trade down or stay put at the third overall spot in the first round. That led me to the related questions of how often picks that high in the draft are moved and how successful such moves have been. Now that is something I can sink my perfect superhero teeth into.

Several thousand words later, I was still in the thick of it, and your own questions were getting shoved farther and farther down into the depths of the column. Problem is, I've got A LOT of questions to get through in this column. This week's e-mailbag wasn't exactly overflowing with great questions or really probing questions, but it had a lot of serviceable ones. Kinda like Matthew McConaughey's film career.

Anyway, I threw on the brakes and decided it would be a better approach to get quickly to your questions rather than make you slog through pages of my own self-serving analysis. However, if you think that look into high draft pick trades sounds interesting, you're still in luck. I'll run that piece on Monday as my first "Answer Man on the Case," file, which is a title I just made up and I hope is cool with my editor.

So, alright, alright, alright...on to your questions.

**

Or, I guess I should say, on to your corrections first. Oh man, does this one hurt, not only because I heard it from multiple contributors but because it's about numbers and I always think I'm right when it comes to numbers. Clearly, that is not the case.

Plus, the subject at hand wasn't even an answer to one of your questions. It was just a product of my own little obsession with interesting dates coupled with an attempt to tease the questioner for his own needlessly obsessive question.

To refresh your memory, a fan named Kyle from Edmonton asked me how many seconds it had been from the time the Bucs won the Super Bowl to the point that he was sending off his e-mail (answer: 222,557,078). I tried to impress him, useless-numbers-wise, by pointing out that we had recently passed a very rare Ambigram Day. That's my made up term for January 11, 2001 - when written 01-11-10, it's a date that reads the same way even if you flip it 180 degrees. In that way, it's even better than a palindrome in my mind.

The problem is, I then claimed that it was going to be our last Ambigram Day for over 50 years, pointing out that we would have to wait until 09-11-60.

Well, here's what you had to say:

Josh Schaefer of Baltimore, Maryland says:
You made an error in your last column. The question about how many seconds since the Bucs won the Super Bowl had a part about the date of 01-11-10 being the last time you could do that for 50 years. However you will be able to flip a date 180 degrees and get the same readout just next year on 11-11-11. Just thought you might like to know that.

...and Steve Coker of Sarasota, Florida adds:
Not to venture too far from football, but regarding the 50-year wait for an "ambigram," how about 11/11/11? I suspect I'm one of many veterans quick to note that day.

...and finally, our old pal Richard Schilling, now of Dallas, Texas cracks the whip thusly:
Answer Man, my faith in you is fading. In answering Kyle Calkins' "most pointless" question, you claimed that 09-11-60 would be the next Ambigram Day. But did you forget about 11-11-11?

Answer Man: Oh, yes, I most certainly did forget that, or more accurately I looked right past it when I was making my claim. It's a pretty dang obvious Ambigram Day, isn't it. And as Mr. Coker points out, it's a particularly notable Veterans Day here in the U.S. While we have taken that day to recognize military veterans of all wars, it was originally a celebration of the end of World War II and is still recognized in that way (by other names such as Remembrance Day) in other countries. Considering the greater meaning of that day, I don't think anyone's going to even notice that it's also a "holiday" I made up, but it's still true that it fits my criteria and should have been included.

I should just stick to pointing these dates out to the Answer Kids, because they never try to prove me wrong. Mostly because they don't care, but still...

By the way, Richard, I'm not ignoring your repeated questions regarding the proper avenues for sending fan feedback to the NFL. I'm still hunting down the best possible answer.

Okay, now on to your questions!

**

  1. Justin of St. Petersburg, Florida asks:
    Where do you sit on Gameday? I ask because there has to be some special throne reserved at Raymond James Stadium for the man who takes the time to define a leap second in his football-related article.

Answer Man: After missing 11-11-11, it should be in the broom closet.

The truth is, I have a seat in the press box, or at least I did in my previous stint with the team. I rejoined the Bucs after the 2009 season, so I'm not sure what they have in mind for me next fall. The press box is a nice place, but the no-cheering rule is hard on the Answer Man, who has a difficult time being objective.

I don't really have a job, per se, on Gameday, but I guess it's considered important that I see what's going on. That way, I have an easier time weighing in when somebody asks me why Edell Shepherd's diving play against Washington wasn't a catch or how Simeon Rice can be flagged for "leaping."

**

Okay, that was a bit of a softball to get started on, so I'll do some penance by attacking the following stream of consciousness bit by bit (typos and lack of capitalization left intact to give the reader a better feel for the questioner's frame of mind)...

  1. Jimmy P. of Reno, Nevada asks:
    ive got couple of questions, (please feel free to choose to answer one or all of them) how longe will it be until Derrick Brooks and mike alstott get their shot at canton? Is there any possibility for an expansion of the season or the leage? what type of materials are the current NFL uniroem made of? Is the feild at RJ stadium natural or artifical? who by the numbers is the greatest TB Head coach? How much longer can you keep reading these questions before ignoring them? Out of the resent retired buccaneers is most likly to get elected into the hall of fame? will you have to go to the dentist of i say this, superbowl superbowl superbowl superbowl superbowl superbowl superbowl superbowl"

Answer Man: I see someone is bored. You know, you're only about 350 miles from Vegas. There are a few things to do there, in case you haven't heard.

Anyway, let's take your questions one by one, starting with how longe will it be until Derrick Brooks and mike alstott get their shot at canton?

According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's official explanation of eligibility for the Hall, a player or coach must have not played or coached for a period of five seasons in order to become eligible for induction. This doesn't have to include an official "retirement" by the player; in other words, the clock winds retroactively to whenever the player's career ended, whether he intended it to or not.

Take Alstott's case. He suffered his second neck injury during the Buccaneers' 2007 training camp. He was coming off a fine 2006 season and definitely intended to keep playing in '07, but a sore neck prompted a visit to the doctor, and the results of an examination weren't promising. The Answer Man was there, and even though Alstott didn't officially announce his retirement at that time, it was clear that the risk of a much more serious injury if he continued playing was going to force his hand. Alstott went to injured reserve that year and then officially retired early in 2008. The Bucs threw a big party that reunited hundreds of figures from Alstott's illustrious career, which also spanned the team's new era of success, beginning in 1996.

So, the clock started ticking on Alstott's five years in 2007. He has already gone three seasons without playing, so the 2010 and 2011 seasons will finish it and Alstott will be eligible for the voters to consider his case in 2012.

Brooks was released by the Buccaneers a year ago, after the 2008 campaign. He was willing to listen to offers from other teams, but never found the right situation and did not play in 2009. Assuming he does not return to the field, he is one year into his five. Add 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 to Brooks' total and he will be eligible for the voters to consider his case in 2014.

Is there any possibility for an expansion of the season or the leage?

Of course, there is always the possibility for either, or both. The league expanded from 26 to 28 teams in 1976, when the Bucs and Seahawks entered the fray, and 19 years later made it 30 with the additions of the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars. The move of the original Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996 prompted the league to consider the relocated Ravens a "new" team and put a restored Browns franchise in Cleveland starting in 1999. That led to a pretty wonky unbalance of 31 teams until 2002, when the Houston Texans were added for a much more workable of 32. The league realigned into four four-team divisions in each conference, and even used the opportunity to fix some long-standing geographical oddities, such as Atlanta and Carolina playing in the NFC West.

As for the length of the season, it hasn't changed since 1978, when two games were added to make it 16. Well, that's not true. The season has been lengthened to a total of 17 weeks by the introduction of a bye week in 1990. In fact, it was actually 18 weeks long in 1993 when the NFL tried a two-bye-week plan, but it wasn't popular and the one-bye scheduled returned the following year and has held ever since.

Okay, but that's just history and you asked for my opinion of what could be next. Please understand that we are moving solidly into speculation at this point...still, the Answer Man believes a longer season is closer on the horizon than an expansion of the league beyond 32 teams.

Look at the history of the season's length. It bounced between 10 and 12 games from 1935 through 1946, but it 1947 it was set at 12 and it stuck that way for 14 years, through 1960. The season lengthened to 14 games in 1961 and stayed that way for 17 years, through 1977. Then it moved to 16 and has stuck that way for 32 years. Seems like we're overdue for the next change.

Of course, Major League Baseball also changed its season length in 1961, from 154 games to 162, and that has held strong for almost 50 years, with no likely change in sight. The snowy playoff games in places like Cleveland and Detroit always lead to debate about whether MLB should go back to 154, but don't count on it. Seasons rarely retract due to the potential of lost revenue.

So it's possible that the NFL has hit the perfect equilibrium with 16 games, like MLB's 162. But there has been a little bit too much talk in recent years about changing the schedule for the Answer Man to believe it's all smoke and no fire. In this case, the impetus is the four-game preseason, which brings out the detractors every summer. It's impossible to ignore that the NFL Commissioner himself, Roger Goodell, has openly discussed the possibility of a longer regular season. The most common idea seems to be to shorten the preseason to two games and play 18 regular-season contests. If you're asking me, it's only a matter of time until that happens.

On the other hand, the 32-team format really does seem to be a good equilibrium for the NFL. The four-by-four format in each league is just too perfect - it works for league-wide game rotations, it works for playoff berths and it works for balanced scheduling. You'll never hear the end of expansion talk as long as there is no team in the Los Angeles area, but you'll just as often hear of relocation when that issue arises. The 31-team setup from 1999-2001 was so unwieldy that it would be surprising to see the NFL go with 33 franchises for any length of time, and thus you would have the issue of finding a 34th locations for a franchise. Again, it's just my opinion, but that doesn't seem to have much traction.

  • what type of materials are the current NFL uniroem made of?*

Mostly spandex and nylon. I just looked at the tag on one of the Buccaneers' pairs of pants, and it is comprised of 88% nylon and 12% spandex. I don't have the same ratio information for the jerseys, but I can tell you that the side panels that stretch and form fit are made of spandex and the rest is a nylon mesh. Oh, and the helmet is plastic, with a facemask that is either stainless steel or titanium. The Bucs use the stainless steel.

  • Is the feild at RJ stadium natural or artifical?*

I know you're joking with this one. Well, you're joking or your not really a Bucs fan. If that's the case, I'm glad you happened upon our site. Welcome. Take a look around. You might like what you find.

Anyway, the turf at Raymond James Stadium is all-natural grass, thank you, and darn good stuff, too. Specifically, it's Bermuda Southern hybrid 419, imported from Alabama in huge roles. The entire field was re-sodded before the most recent Super Bowl in Tampa, in January of 2010.

It has annually ranked as one of the best or the best surface in the league. In fact, the RJS field was named the league's number-one turf in 1998 (its first year), 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006. In recent years, the NFLPA, which conducts the survey of its players to get these rankings, has begun ranking grass fields and artificial surfaces separately. In 2008, the Bucs' field was named second-best grass surface in the league. Yeah, yeah, we've got the advantage of Florida's beautiful weather but, still, kudos to the RJS groundskeepers.

who by the numbers is the greatest TB Head coach?

It all depends on which numbers you prefer. In the same manner as I discussed the top quarterbacks in team history, I'll lay out the relevant digits and let you decide who they support.

We can't really include Raheem Morris in the conversation yet as he only has one year at the helm. It's also pretty fair, I think, to rule out Leeman Bennett and Richard Williamson, who had 4-28 and 4-15 records, respectively, at the helm. I'm not putting all the blame of the 1985-86 and 1990-91 seasons on the head coaches, but neither could I make an argument for either as the best in team history.

Jon Gruden holds the record for most wins by a head coach, with 57, followed by Tony Dungy's 54 and John McKay's 44. Dungy has the best winning percentage, at .563 (54-42), ahead of Gruden at .509 (57-55) and Sam Wyche at .359 (23-41). Gruden has the most playoff wins and the best playoff winning percentage (3-2, .600), ahead of Dungy (2-4, .333) and McKay (1-3, .250). Gruden's teams won three division titles; McKay's two and Dungy's one. Each coach took his team to the NFC Championship Game once. Gruden has the only Super Bowl appearance and Super Bowl victory.

The raw numbers seem to make it a pretty close race between Dungy and Gruden. You can use that to make the choice if you like. As I said, I'm not going to name a winner myself here, but I'll give you one more thing to chew on regarding McKay, Dungy and Gruden.

  • John McKay took an expansion team in an era that was particularly tough for expansion teams and put them in the NFC Championship Game within four seasons.
  • Tony Dungy turned around a team that had posted 15 consecutive losing seasons and had them in the playoffs by his second year and in four of his six years overall.
  • Jon Gruden's fact is actually a repeat, but it's still the most important thing in his favor: He won a Super Bowl.
  • How much longer can you keep reading these questions before ignoring them?*

Oh, bring it on, Jimmy. As the author of a bi-weekly column that generally runs 8,000-10,000 words to settle little more than a dozen issues, I think I'm the one causing readers' eyes to glaze over. I can do this all night, Jimbo.

  • Out of the resent retired buccaneers is most likly to get elected into the hall of fame?*

Was the Ambien kicking in about the time you got to this one? My six-year old writes more cogent sentences. Still, I know what you mean, and I have to say that this is a BIG question to just slip into an otherwise lighthearted jumble of text. I honestly don't think your semi-coherent rambling deserves much more, so I'm going to give you the abbreviated answer. That said, if anyone thinks we should discuss the issue in greater length, hit up my e-mailbag and will give it a go. (Like there's any chance that won't happen.)

Short answer, and remember this is just my (admittedly well-informed) opinion: Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp breeze in as generational game-changers. The man who seems like a dark horse at this point, Ronde Barber, looks awfully good on further reflection and also makes it in relatively easy. John Lynch makes it thanks to his many, many Pro Bowls for two different teams, his outsized reputation for hard-hitting and the huge amount of respect he has garnered from everyone in and around the game. Mike Alstott, as great as he was, has a tougher time because of the position he played. I think that's the list.

will you have to go to the dentist of i say this, superbowl superbowl superbowl superbowl superbowl superbowl superbowl superbowl

No, but you will if we ever meet because SUPER BOWL IS TWO WORDS and that chant made my ears bleed. (Note: The Answer Man is just kidding and wouldn't really ever react violently upon meeting a Bucs fan, even though he has totally awesome super powers.)

**

  1. Marquis of Scranton, Pennsylvania asks:
    What was the purpose of taking away the wedge on kickoffs?

Answer Man: I always spell out the state name when a fan submits a question with his hometown and state abbreviation, as you can see above. Still, I was tempted to leave it the way Marquis wrote it because something about Scranton makes me want to say it as, "Scranton, P-A." Just sounds right.

Alrighty, that was needlessly divergent after a question that I actually like quite a bit. Every year the NFL's Competition Committee digs into the Rulebook and tweaks it here and there, as long as the league votes for the new ideas. Items such as horse-collar tackling or instant replay reform or new quarterback protection provisos usually earn 90% of the attention, but there are other rule changes along the way that have significant impact on how the game is played.

Take for example the decision in 1994 to move the kickoff line from the 35 back to the 30 and also mandate that the kicking tee could be no taller than one inch (previously, a kicker could use a one, two or three-inch tee). That change was introduced as part of a package of rule modifications that came out of the annual meeting in Orlando, all designed to "increase offensive production," as the league put it. Kicking from the 30 would presumably result in fewer touchbacks and more returns, and thus presumably more touchdown runbacks and better starting yard-lines for the offense.

Did it work? Oh, yeah. In 1993, the NFL averaged 3.1 kickoff returns per team per game; in 1994, with the yard-line moved back five yards, that average instantly jumped to 4.1 returns per team per game. Two more kickoff returns in every game can certainly make a big difference. Even more strikingly, there were four kickoff return touchdowns in 1993 across the entire league, and then suddenly 16 in 1994.

Interestingly, the number of returns per game has stayed pretty steady ever since, while the number of kickoff return TDs has fluctuated quite a bit, though still staying much higher than before the rule change. In every season since 1994, the number of kickoff returns per team per game has been between 3.9 and 4.3, bottoming out at that lower number in 1997, 1998 and just last year. The high points came in 1995 and 2003. However, after dropping back to nine KO return TDs in 1995 and 1996, the league jumped to 14 in 1997 and reached as high as 25 in 2007. The lowest mark since 1996 was another nine-TD season in 2006.

The very next year, the Competition Committee floated the idea of changing a touchback so that it gave the receiving team the ball at the 25 instead of the 20, in order to further discourage kicking the ball into the end zone, but that one didn't pass. It probably would have been overkill.

In 2009, however, the NFL made another change to the kickoff return procedure, outlawing the wedge if it featured three or more players. The idea was...wait a minute, should we pause a minute and explain what the wedge is for any readers who might be confused? Uh, yeah. I'm thinking my editor is fast asleep by this point in the article (thanks Jimmy from Reno!), so I can get away with going off in any direction I like.

The wedge has been an essential part of football teams' kickoff return plans for ages. Think of what an actual wedge is - a triangular shaped tool that is used to separate two objects or portions of the same object. It is one of the six classical simple machines (the pulley and the screw being among the others) and it's a classic NFL tool, too. As the return man gathers in the kick, three or more players form a wall in front of him, standing essentially shoulder-to-shoulder, and try to create a lane up the middle of the field by demolishing any would-be tacklers who are charging down the field.

The NFL never really had a problem with this strategy, which is why the wedge was so popular for so long. Heck, getting more of our players than your players into a specific area of the field is one of the essential ideas of the game. The problem was injuries. Studies showed that an inordinate number of injuries occurred at the wedge's point of contact, both to the players trying to tackle the return man and to the wedge-meisters themselves.

So now you can't set up a blocking wall of more than two players in front of the return man when the return is beginning. Apparently, you can put together another two-man line in front of that two-man line (think of a box formation), but the era of three, four and even five-man wedges is a thing of the past.

After this change was announced last offseason, some special teams coaches predicted that return numbers would be down in 2009. They weren't complaining per se - heck, what do coaches like more than being pushed back to the drawing board for new ideas? - but they did think the rule would have a big effect.

Did it? Understand that one year under the new rules is not a reliable sample size...but, no, there wasn't an appreciable change. In 2008, the league as a whole returned 2,114 kickoffs, averaged 22.8 yards per runback and scored 13 touchdowns on those plays. In 2009, the league as a whole returned 2,004 kickoffs, averaged 22.6 yards per runback and scored 18 touchdowns on those plays.

Finding statistics on injuries suffered on kickoff returns is quite a bit tougher, so I can't tell you if the new rule achieved its primary goal. But it is clear that the league's special teams coaches will find a way to adapt to any rule.

**

  1. Kagan Goulding of Tampa, Florida asks:
    How healthy are Carnell Williams and Sammie Stroughter?

Answer Man: Quite healthy, I'm happy to say.

Let's start with Sammie, since he's the one who ended the 2009 season on injured reserve. The Bucs' amazing seventh-round pick was closing out a strong rookie season (31 receptions for 334 yards and outstanding work in the return game) when he suffered a right foot fracture in Week 15 at Seattle. Each player receives an end-of-the-year physical after the final game, and while Stroughter didn't quite get a clean bill of health at that time, he wasn't far off.

Head Trainer Todd Toriscelli says that Stroughter should be full-go by the time the Buccaneers begin their offseason program on March 29. Toriscelli should know; he sees the young receiver almost every day, as Stroughter has put the same sort of non-stop effort into his rehab as he does in honing his game.

Stroughter himself told Buccaneers.com essentially the same thing about a month ago when Insider caught up with him for an update on his recovery on February 10. You can watch that video in the Buccaneers.com Video Archive. He also said he was looking forward to a full offseason of work in which he can strengthen his bond with fellow second-year quarterback Josh Freeman.

Williams, as you may know, just finished his first full 16-game season in 2009. That, of course, was the culmination of a remarkable comeback from a second serious knee injury, this one suffered in the 2008 season finale. He, too, should be just fine heading into the offseason. It will certainly be refreshing for Caddy to spend the spring getting in synch with his offensive teammates rather than spending hours on the rehab machines.

**

  1. Nathaniel Melvin of South Berwick, Maine asks:
    Why were the Buccaneers in the AFC West then moved to the NFC Central? Wouldn't they count as on the East Coast?

Answer Man: You can win some money with that first bit of trivia, though I know I have edified Buc fans on that little anomaly in the past. Yes, when the league expanded to 28 teams in 1976, the Buccaneers were placed in the AFC West and the Seattle Seahawks were slotted into the NFC West (where coincidentally, they are now after a long time in the AFC).

So, were the NFL's caretakers just daft in '76, putting the Bucs in a neighborhood with Denver, Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego? No, it was all part of a two-year plan intended to "introduce," if you will, the two new teams to the rest of the league. Maybe they were worried about competitive balances - that is, it was something of an advantage to play the Bucs or Seahawks in those early years because the expansion rules were so unfavorable back then.

So, the plan going in was to put the Bucs and Seahawks into their respective AFC and NFC West divisions in 1976, then switch them to the NFC Central and AFC West, respectively, in 1977. That way, the NFL could set it up so that the Bucs and Seahawks played each other twice during those two years and played every other team in the two conferences once.

Seattle, of course, ended up in a geographically-sound division with the Chiefs, Broncos, Chargers and Raiders. The Bucs, on the other hand, found themselves matched up with the upper Midwest quartet of Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota. What gives?

Well, it was as simple as this: There were already five teams in each of the other two NFC division; the Central had only four. The NFL has generally resisted division shuffling in order to preserve long-standing rivalries, and in this case didn't want to break up Dallas, Washington, Philly, the New York Giants and the then-St. Louis Cardinals in the more sensible East. Thus, for 25 years the Bucs made four annual trips to Chicago or farther while only occasionally visiting Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans or, when they came into the league in 1995, Carolina or Jacksonville.

Many issues such as this were fixed during the 2002 realignment, which created the NFC South with the Bucs, Panthers, Falcons and Saints. Gotta admit, that makes sense. The league decided the Cardinals (now way out in Phoenix) could be spared from the NFC East tradition, keeping the other four teams intact and putting the Cards in the NFC West. The funny thing is, Dallas is now one of the most remotely located teams in the league in respect to the rest of its division mates. The St. Louis Rams are a bit removed from Arizona, San Fran and Seattle, while the Miami Dolphins are a Southern spur on the tightly-bunched New England-N.Y. Jets-Buffalo grouping.

**

  1. Brent of Sunman, Indiana asks:
    Who is the all time leader in interceptions that has played at least one year in a Buccaneer uniform?

Answer Man: That's such an unusual and specific question that I wonder if you already know the answer and are testing me. On the other hand, the answer is fairly mundane, so maybe not.

The answer also has a good chance of being different a year from now, because the Buccaneers' all-time leader in interceptions, Ronde Barber, is just one away from being the all-time leader in career picks among anyone who has ever played a season in Tampa. Barber has 37, all as a Buccaneer; his former teammate Donnie Abraham, has 38. Abraham got 31 of those 38 in his six seasons as a Buccaneer (1996-2001), and that ranks second in franchise history to Barber's total. Abraham added seven more during three seasons with the Jets.

Barber is actually tied for second on the list at the moment with a player who is fairly obscure in terms of Buccaneer history, though not in terms of his entire NFL career. Safety Joey Browner, who went to six Pro Bowls in nine seasons (1983-91) with the Minnesota Vikings, finished his career with seven games for the Buccaneers in 1992. He didn't pick off any passes as a Buc, but brought 37 with him from Minnesota.

Incidentally, this question almost had a more interesting answer. On July 8, 2002, shortly before the start of training camp, the Buccaneers signed cornerback Terrell Buckley, who by that point had played 10 combined seasons for the Packers, Dolphins, Broncos and Patriots and racked up 41 interceptions. Buckley, in fact, had won a Super Bowl ring with the Pats the year before. Buckley did play in four preseason games for the Bucs that year and even had an interception. However, citing the rapid development of Corey Ivy and Tim Wansley, the Bucs released Buckley on September 1. He would end up re-signing with New England and playing four more seasons with the Patriots, Dolphins, Jets and Giants, eventually finishing with 50 career interceptions.

**

  1. LaBradford Britton of Gadsden, Alabama asks:
    Will Carnell Williams be released?

Answer Man: LaBradford sent this question before the start of free agency, so there's a good chance he already knows the answer. I'm not saying the Buccaneers were ever considering releasing Caddy, but when they chose to extend to him the tender offer necessary to make him a restricted free agent, that made their intentions much more obvious.

Williams was given the second-highest tender offer available, which means a team that chooses to sign him would have to be ready to surrender a first-round pick in the 2010 draft to the Buccaneers. If Williams were to sign with any other team, the Bucs would have the choice of matching that contract or taking the draft pick.

Had the Bucs been interested in "releasing" Williams, they could have done essentially that by not extending the tender offer. That would have effectively made the running back an unrestricted free agent. Now, he can either sign the Bucs' one-year tender offer or work on a more lengthy deal.

**

  1. Willem of Manila, Philippines asks:
    Okay, this will be a layered question in regards to the draft and restricted FA. At what time/date can teams start trading draft picks? The reason I ask this is the restricted free agent market. Let's say Tampa wants [Brandon] Marshall of the Broncos. We have to surrender our first-round pick to them. That's a steep price if you pick 3rd overall but not so bad if you are in the bottom of the draft. So is it possible we trade our first-rounder to, let's say the Jets, and we get their 1st and their 2nd rounder. Then we take this 1st rounder of the Jets and give it to the Broncos if/when we are able to sign Marshall. In this way we are able at least to recuperate a 2nd-rounder for the lost of the first-rounder. More power to you Answer Man. P.S. Tell Mark Dominik I would be happy if he can pull this scenario off. Go BUCS.

Answer Man: Some of you probably wonder why I would include this question when I've stated unequivocally that I can't really offer my opinion on things such as who we should draft and what players we can trade for. However, I can answer Willem's first question about trading picks and use the rest of the submission to study the bigger, more generic issue at hand.

Teams can trade their picks, including those in future drafts, at pretty much any time. In recent years, the Bucs have been involved in picks-for-players/coaches deals in such varied times of the year as February (Jon Gruden), March (Kellen Winslow), April (Luke McCown), May (Ryan Sims), June (Roman Oben), August (Jason Whittle) and October (Michael Bennett). However, they would not have been in position to sign a player like Marshall and send over the necessary draft-pick compensation until after all the NFL's teams had tendered or not tendered their potential free agents.

As to the rest of Willem's e-mail, and a somewhat similar one from Brian in Salisbury, Maryland, I usually lean towards Occam's Razor in these situations. That's not a perfect reference point, because Occam's Razor has more to do with selecting between competing hypotheses, not concocting random team-building scenarios. Still, the underlying principle - the simplest solution is usually the correct one - informs me here.

Willem clearly wants to bring a talented receiver to the Bucs' squad. Is it likely this will occur through a trade from third down to 29th in the first round (for only a second-round pick, mind you), followed by the striking of a deal with Marshall, followed by sending over the 29th pick when the Broncos don't match? Brian's e-mail was equally interesting but involved a lot of players who have already found new homes - Julius Peppers, Antrel Rolle, Dunta Robinson, Karlos Dansby, to name a few. Is it likely that all or most of those players would end up on one team?

The Buccaneers have made it clear that they are going to continue to build their young foundation primarily through the draft, believing that approach to be the one most likely to lead to year-after-year success. Now, if a draft pick is best spent by trading it for an established player, the Bucs have obviously shown the willingness to do just that. But these elaborate scenarios, while admittedly a lot of fun, almost never match the more mundane realities of how teams are constructed. Brian wanted to know what my dream scenario would be this offseason, and I appreciate that he would ask me that. However, when it comes down to it, I really just want the team's brain trust to use our 10 draft picks in the best possible way. Do I know what that is? No. But I trust the people who think they do.

**

  1. Ryan of New York, New York asks:
    Why is it Tampa keeps cutting anyone good? Why did I see [Antonio] Bryant is now a free agent?

Answer Man: My answer to you, Ryan, is another question: Who have the Buccaneers cut that led to your question?

You mention Antonio Bryant, who signed with the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday. Bryant was not cut; he became an unrestricted free agent on March 5 and was able to negotiate and sign with any team in the league. He was one of 220 players across the league who became UFAs that day, or roughly seven per team.

The Bucs cut only three players prior to the start of free agency: cornerback Torrie Cox and punters Josh Bidwell and Dirk Johnson. I'm not saying these aren't good players, but that's a relatively short list for a time of year when every team is assessing its roster and making similar moves.

Last year's cuts before free agency were admittedly more dramatic and may be part of what led to your question, Ryan. On one memorable day last February, the Bucs parted ways with five established veterans: Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Joey Galloway, Cato June and Ike Hilliard. Brooks, in particular, was a difficult decision; he may go down as the best player in franchise history.

However, it's hard to argue that the Bucs made any enormous mistakes with those moves. Dunn and Hilliard retired. Brooks did not sign with another team. Galloway signed with New England but was released after playing in three games and making seven catches; he later signed with Pittsburgh in December but did not appear in any more games. June signed with Houston but spent the year on injured reserve.

Last year, the Buccaneers kept Bryant from unrestricted free agency by utilizing the franchise player tag, which gave the receiver a very sizeable one-year contract. The team chose not to do the same this year after injuries cut Bryant's production down by quite a bit in 2009. So far, Bryant and safety Will Allen have signed with other teams. Other free agents who could leave in the same way include Jermaine Phillips and Jimmy Wilkerson. On the other hand, the Bucs used tender offers to guard against losing Donald Penn, Barrett Ruud, Jeremy Trueblood, Cadillac Williams, Maurice Stovall and Mark Bradley, all of whom are now restricted free agents.

I understand if you think losing Bryant is a blow to the team, Ryan. You are most definitely entitled to your opinion. However, I think it's inaccurate to say the Buccaneers are cutting "anyone good." Wouldn't be much point in that strategy.

**

  1. Chris from Apopka, Florida asks:
    Hey Answer Man, I know that you can return a [missed] field goal. However I was wondering, if a team was attempting a long field goal could a player from the other team stand under the crossbar and if the ball came near the crossbar jump up and swat the ball? I know that would take some serious skill on the player's part but would it be a legit field goal block?

Answer Man: Chris, I have to admit that this is the second time in three columns that the NFL Rulebook has nearly thwarted me.

Here's the process by which I got around to the correct answer, which was there very plainly on page 88 of the Rulebook all along: 1) Vaguely remembered having researched this before and discovering that such a block is illegal; 2) Pored through the Rulebook for, oh, 853 hours without finding any support for what I had remembered (stupid me...I was looking in the field goal and scoring areas of the book); 3) Did a little surfing to see if I could find an official NFL answer; 4) Found many links to the NCAA having changed that rule fairly recently, but nothing officially NFL-related; 5) Found other links in which the authors very confidently answered the question, despite the fact that some said the move was legal and others said it was illegal; 5) Said to myself, "Answer Man, this is dumb. You're a 20-second walk from the office of Rich Bisaccia, the Bucs' special teams guru;" 6) Got off my butt and walked to Bisaccia's office to ask this question, to which he promptly answered, "No, that's called goal-tending and it's illegal;" 7) After listening to a more detailed explanation from a very patient Bisaccia, walked back to my office, picked the Rulebook back up and looked for "goal-tending" in the Index.

And, bingo! The answer is Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (s). It is part of a long list of items considered "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" (that's what Rule 12, Section 3 covers). Rule 12 begins like this:

There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct. This applies to any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship. Such acts specifically include, among others:

And then part (s) reads:

Goal-tending by a defensive player leaping up to deflect a kick as it passes above the crossbar of a goalpost is prohibited. The Referee could award three points for a palpably unfair act.

By the way, a "palpably unfair act" is Rule 12, Section 3, Article 3, and it simply reads:

A player or substitute shall not interfere with play by any act which is palpably unfair.

It goes on to say that the Referee can do such things as disqualify the player who commits the act, enforce any distance penalty they believe is equitable and even award a score. Here's an obvious example: If a player is running free down the sideline with the ball, obviously on his way to scoring, and a player on the sideline trips him, that would be a palpably unfair act and the Referee could award the touchdown anyway.

Now, as you mentioned, Chris, it is legal for a player to wait in the end zone and, if the kick falls short of the crossbar, catch it and return it. The Bears certainly have made the most of that strategy, as Nathan Vasher returned one 108 yards for a score in 2005 and Devin Hester did the exact same thing a season later. San Diego's Antonio Cromartie one-upped the Bears in 2007 when he scored on a 109-yard return of a missed field goal against the Vikings. Yes, that was the record for longest NFL TD ever, and one that can be matched but never exceeded.

For strategic reasons, you normally see this play attempted near the end of a half. A field goal that's likely to have the right trajectory to fall short in the end zone is going to be from pretty far out. Let's say it's a 55-yard try, which means it's being kicked from the 45. If you choose to catch the miss and run it out, you've got to get to at least the 45 to make it a good decision, and that's pretty risky. On the other hand, if the half is going to end anyway, why not try? That's what Cromartie did, and it sure paid off.

I imagine you see a gray area there, right? If you can catch a miss and return it, couldn't you jump up and catch a kick that might be about to go over the crossbar? Well, first of all, that would be highly unlikely; for one thing, the player would have to catch the ball about 12 feet off the ground in order to nab one that was going to just go over the crossbar. If that happened, it would be up to the referee to determine if it was a palpably unfair act or not. You definitely could not catch and return a kick that had already broken the plane of the crossbar. Once the ball has broken the plane, the kick is already good. Coach Bisaccia points out that kick by the Cleveland Browns a few years ago where the ball struck the camera that was mounted on the supporting post where it curves up to meet the crossbar, just behind the crossbar. The ball deflected back out into the end zone and initially looked like a miss, but the officials watched a replay and determined that by striking the camera it had already broken the plane and was therefore good.

**

  1. Brian H. of Tampa, Florida asks:
    Is it possible to buy an old NFL game (tape/dvd)...the one I had in mind, was the TB v. Rams game of 2000 (I think it was a Monday Night Game). One of the best games in Bucs history (minus SB in 2002), if you ask me. How could I get a copy of that game?

Answer Man: Brian, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no legitimate way to purchase such game tapes. You can find videos for sale regarding the Buccaneers on nflfilms.com or wbshop.com, but they are specialty titles such as the DVD about the Super Bowl win or the cheerleaders' "Making the Squad" program. Sorry. Perhaps you can find a friend who happened to tape that game and would let you borrow it.

That was a great game, though, huh? In a feature the Buccaneers did for their game program in 2007, it was named the best non-playoff game in team history. For anyone needing a memory-refresher, that was the Monday Nighter in December of 2000 that, in a small way, avenged the Bucs' 1999 NFC Championship Game loss to the Rams. Unlike that game, this one was a Rams-style shootout, which the Bucs won 38-35. Warrick Dunn scored three touchdowns, including the game-winner, and also engineered a game-saving play when he pitched the ball back to quarterback Shaun King after nearly being trapped for a big loss by future teammate Kevin Carter. The Bucs had 446 yards of offense in that game and John Lynch finally iced it in the final minute with an interception off Kurt Warner.

**

As usual, we'll finish with a short round of quickies. These are questions that require little explanation or that I have already tackled in a previous column. Also, many of the answers will be very obvious to most Bucs fans, so feel free to skip this part.

  1. Cameron Bortolazzo of Redding, California asks:
    Who was the first Buc to be chosen as the first overall pick in the draft?

Answer Man: That would be Oklahoma defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, the first overall pick in 1976. That was also the first-ever college draft choice by the Tampa Bay franchise. Good start, huh?

**

  1. Travis of Orlando, Florida asks:
    What exactly was Raheem Morris watching in the background during his webcast interview on the Bucs Insider the other day? Odd choice of background content for a piece on the Combine.

Answer Man: When we chatted with him after the shoot, he said it looked like some kind of midday soap opera. He wasn't watching it. That was the room in the press box he was allowed to use in order for us to film the online interview. I think it's safe to say his attentions were more focused on the field below.

**

  1. Chad Morgan of Lewisburg, West Virginia asks:
    Did Warrick Dunn retire?

Answer Man: Yes. After his one final season with the Buccaneers in 2008, following five original Tampa Bay seasons (1997-2001) and six intervening years in Atlanta, Dunn officially announced his retirement in 2009. Later that year, in December, the Falcons announced that Dunn would become the team's seventh limited partner and hold a minority stake in the franchise. By the way, Dunn is one of only seven players in league history to amass 10,000 rushing yards and 4,000 receiving yards.

Man, lots of Warrick Dunn appearances in this week's column.

**

  1. Michael Endtricht of Rockwall, Texas asks:
    Who was the Bucs' starting QB in 1986?

Answer Man: Well, the answer at the start of the season was Steve DeBerg, who won the opening day job over Steve Young. Yes, that Steve Young, Hall of Famer. However, the Bucs lost their first two games handily and Young took over for the final 14 contests. Obviously, Young would go on to great things in San Francisco, but that was a tough season for everybody in Tampa. Young finished with 2,282 passing yards, eight TDs, 13 picks and a 65.5 passer rating. He also ran for 425 yards and five touchdowns.

**

  1. Mark K. of Tampa, Florida asks:
    Did Warren Sapp ever kick a field goal in a game for the Buccaneers?

Answer Man: No, but you get the feeling he could have. That guy was freakishly athletic, and way more nimble than a man his size should be. Also, he was a punter in high school, so he did have some innate kicking ability. Sapp did catch four passes in 2003 when the Bucs were using him as a fullback in short-yardage situations, gaining 39 yards and scoring two touchdowns.

The only non-kicker/punter to score points on a kick for the Buccaneers in the regular season was offensive lineman George Yarno, who nailed his only extra point try against the Detroit Lions in the 1983 season finale.

**

  1. Bobby Shay of Tampa, Florida asks:
    How much do you get paid?

Answer Man: Why? Because it's too much, right? I'm not going to be a patsy for your jokes!

**

  1. Christopher Griffis of Zephyrhills, FL says:
    You are the man.

Answer Man: Yeah, that's more like it. And with that...

...I'm going to call it a day. Keep sending those questions. I already have a few good ones backlogged (Paul from Ocala, I'll get to your question about Josh Freeman and his QB rating in the next column), but I always need more. I'll be back in two weeks with another round of answers.

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