Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Answer Man, Series 6, Vol. 4

After musing about the proper way to extract good results from a mischievous genie in a bottle, the Buc fans' man on the inside delves into such topics as Josh Freeman's rookie season, compensatory picks, unbalanced expansion, rule changes, draft trades and more...

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So, you may have noticed that my job description has recently undergone a minor change. Whereas I used to be a Superhero Who Answers Questions About Football, now I'm a Pirate Who Answers Questions About Football. Whatever. As long as I still have my own parking space and access to the team library here at One Buc, I'm cool. Arrr! and Avast ye landlubbers! and all that.

Besides, pirates are associated with piles of treasure, right? And that's sort of related to what I wanted to write about in today's intro, in a cross-cultural kind of way.

See, there's something I've been thinking about a lot lately, for who knows what reason, and this is it: I don't expect to ever come across a genie in a lamp, but I have prepared myself for that possibility just in case.

(I think I associate piles of treasure with the genie in the bottle story because of that old Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck cartoon in which Daffy is trying to keep all the Sultan's treasure for himself. Not really pirate-related, but there are treasure chests and heaps of gold coins and so on.)

Anyway, call me weird but I have frequently visualized how I would handle it if I was suddenly granted three wishes by a sprung genie. I think this stems from pop culture episodes from my piraty childhood (Twilight Zone maybe?) in which the genie is at best indifferent to the actual desires of the wisher and at worst actively trying to grant wishes in as unpleasant and contradictory a manner as possible.

In other words, my mental image of a genie is a supernatural trickster who is forced to grant your wish but is also free to interpret it in any way that upholds the logic of the statement, even if the result is negative for you. For example, if you wished to be the most famous person in America, he might snap his fingers and make you famous for, say, accidentally launching a nuclear war.

Is this fear founded on my part? (I mean, leaving aside the fact that wish-granting lamp-bound genies don't, technically, exist.) Time for a quick internet search, and... Yes, apparently so. Man, isn't it amazing how you can think of almost any topic and somebody somewhere on the internet has devoted an entire message board to it?

There were apparently two genie-in-a-bottleTwilight Zone episodes, one with a more gentle ending than the other. They have popped up almost invariably in a mischievous way in many other TV shows and movies (I imagine Shaq probably played a good genie in Kazaam but there is no way I'm ever going to find that out through personal experience.) Some folks online have helpfully codified the potential genies you might run across into three types: one that will safely grant your wish as it is intended, one that is essentially incompetent and therefore might not get it right if not perfectly worded, and one that actively tries to turn your wish against you.

My fear is that I would run into the last kind, or perhaps a slightly less evil version of one. That is, if I'm not very careful, he will turn the wish around on me, but if I present it perfectly he will be forced to give me what I actually want. You also have to be careful, with this annoying genie, not to accidentally double-up your wishes; in other words, if you wish for a hot dog and a coke, that counts as two wishes.

And so, when I'm alone at the helm of my ship or chilling out in the crow's nest, I sometimes work on the perfect wording for my three wishes, so that I don't cause a stock market crash when I become fabulously wealthy or end world hunger by wiping out 90% of the population. I assume you can't wish for more wishes or the power of the genie or any obvious loophole like that. I think the perfect solution would be to have a carefully-worded, multi-layered wish typed up on a piece of paper so you can just whip it out and say, "I wish for this to happen."

Okay, I'm sure a trip through my fractured mind is entertaining and all (well, I'm not actually sure of that), but what's the missing link here? How does this relate to Buccaneer football and my quest to help you all find enlightenment in pigskin-related matters? Voila! Like this:

I have recently begun doing a variation of the little mental exercise above in which the three wishes are all for the benefit of the Buccaneers in their 2010 season. (Yes, my obsession with Bucs football may be bordering on unhealthy.) In this exercise, the genie doesn't necessarily have horrible intentions, but he is mischievous, and that means I have to be careful. I can't say, "I wish I could see the best Buccaneer season yet," because then he would just transport me back in time to 2002.

And I've always believed that the bigger and broader the request is, the more effort the genie will make to turn it bad. Thus, in my exercise I don't simply say, "I wish the Buccaneers would win the next three Super Bowls," or "I wish Josh Freeman would throw 40 touchdown passes in 2010." In the first case, I'd probably look down from the TV as the Lombardi Trophy is being handed over to Raheem Morris only to see that I'm covered head-to-toe in garb for the Oakland Raiders, of whom I've been transformed into a fan. In the second, the genie would probably make it so the Bucs traded Freeman to the Buffalo Bills before his big breakout season (I said this was one crazy genie).

So I have to have three specific and not too sweeping wishes ready. This is what I've come up with so far:

  1. I wish at least two players who play for the Buccaneers in 2010 would get 10 or more sacks during the 2010 regular season.
  1. I wish Cadillac Williams would rush for 1,400 or more yards as a Buccaneer during the 2010 season.
  1. I wish the Buccaneers' Josh Freeman would have the best passer rating of all the quarterbacks in the NFC South who qualify for the league lead in that category in 2010.

I especially like that last one, because I don't think it sounds all that greedy on the face of it. I mean, I'm only talking about four starters, not 32. But our division just happens to have Drew Brees in it, plus the up-and-coming Matt Ryan. If Freeman performs better than those two this coming fall, that would seem like a particularly good outcome for the Buccaneers.

I originally used one of my wishes to wish that one of the Bucs' 2010 draft picks would win NFL Rookie of the Year honors, but then I realized that, depending on the position we pick in the first round, that wish could overlap a great deal with wish number one.

So, yeah, we're 17 paragraphs in and all you've gotten so far is my rambling on about corrupt lamp genies. I guess I should move on to your questions, but in the coming weeks, if you want to include YOUR three wishes for the Buccaneers in 2010 with any questions you send in, feel free and maybe I'll include them in the next column. Make 'em specific and not to over the top, or that genie will getcha!

Okay, shazam! Q&A time!

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  1. Paul O'Hara of Ocala, Florida asks:
    Hi Answer Man: I just read that [Josh] Freeman's QB rating was about 59, which stands 30 out of 32 teams. But he only played part of the season. So my question is: Where does he rank among the QBs who played as much or more? That would seem like a more accurate gauge of his rookie year.

Answer Man: Actually, I would put it this way: Is passer rating an accurate gauge at all for Freeman's first nine NFL starts? I can't deny the obvious bias here, but I would say no.

First, the numbers. Freeman, the Buccaneers' first-round pick in the 2009 draft and the franchise quarterback around whom the team's new foundation is being built, compiled a passer rating of 59.8 over 290 passes last season. That put Freeman, individually, 30th in the NFL in quarterbacks who threw enough passes to qualify for the lead. The Buccaneers also finished 30th among the NFL's 32 teams in passer rating, with Freeman, Josh Johnson and Byron Leftwich (plus one incompletion each by WR Michael Clayton and punter Dirk Johnson) combining for a 59.8 mark on 524 passes.

Interestingly, the three first-round quarterbacks from 2009 (and the only three rookie passers to get significant playing time) were all bunched together right there in the rankings, from 28 to 30. New York's Mark Sanchez was 28th with a mark of 63.0 over 364 passes and Detroit's Matthew Stafford was 29th at 61.0 over 377 passes. That's close enough to essentially be a dead heat. Sanchez and Stafford both started from the beginning of the season, and one could argue that more playing time gave them more opportunity to develop their games and potentially improve their numbers by season's end. Of course, there's no proof of that, and Stafford actually missed six games due to injury so only made one more start than Freeman.

Though I don't think it's hugely relevant, you wanted to know how Freeman's rating stood among quarterbacks with the same general amount of playing time. Let's take a range of 50 passes on either side of Freeman's 290. There were five other quarterbacks last season who threw between 240 and 340 passes: Jake Delhomme, Vince Young, Brady Quinn, Marc Bulger and JaMarcus Russell. Young had the best rating in that group, at 82.8, Bulger was next at 70.7, followed by Quinn (67.2), Delhomme (59.4) and Russell (50.0). If you'd like, you can include Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kerry Collins, who threw 227 and 216 passes, respectively. Fitzpatrick compiled a passer rating of 69.7 and Collins finished at 65.5.

There's a pretty wide range among those numbers, but perhaps they do support your point, Paul. Only Young and Bulger (barely) ranked or would have ranked (with enough throws) among the NFL's top 25 in that category in 2009. I have to play devil's advocate, however, and argue cause-and-effect in some of these instances. My point: In some cases, these lower-rated quarterbacks had fewer attempts because they were lower-rated quarterbacks last year; that is, they played their way out of a starting job.

That wasn't the case for the three rookies, though. In fact, Freeman played his way into the starting job, accelerating the team's agenda after the initial plan was to keep him on the sideline for his entire rookie year. Stafford and Sanchez, the first and fifth picks in the draft, respectively, were essentially favorites to start on opening day for their teams upon arrival.

You may know this, Paul, but passer rating is compiled using a complicated formula that combines a quarterback's performance in four statistical categories: completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, touchdowns per attempt and interceptions per attempt. It's also worth noting that there are many critics out there who do not believe this particular statistic is a good gauge of what makes a good quarterback, but the Answer Man thinks it's a pretty useful tool. I mean, the top 10 rated quarterbacks last year were Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Tony Romo and Tom Brady, and I think we can all agree that's a pretty good group of QBs, right?

Anyway, it's not hard to figure out which of those four stats pulled the three rookies down towards the bottom of the rankings. Interceptions. In fact, Stafford, Sanchez and Freeman ended up with nearly identical TD/INT ratios: 13/20 for Stafford, 12/20 for Sanchez and 10/18 for Freeman. Freeman tied for 28th among qualifiers in interception percentage, while the other two tied for 30th. Swap those two numbers for Freeman and his rating jumps to 80.5.

You can't do that, of course. Freeman did throw 10 TDs and 18 touchdowns, and his passer rating is a fair reflection of that. However, you can reasonably predict that Freeman will improve enough in his second year in the league to flip those numbers. And I guess that's the point I was trying to make when I questioned whether that rookie-year passer rating was a good gauge for what Freeman has done so far.

I would argue that there was much more promise than pain in Freeman's performance in his first run through the league, and so would team management. At the Senior Bowl, General Manager Mark Dominik suggested to Bay area reporters who were in Mobile with him that they survey other GMs around the league to find out how many of them now believe Freeman is a legitimate franchise QB-in-the-making. They did, and they found quite a bit of support for that notion. A complementary feature by St. Petersburg Times columnist Gary Shelton earlier this week pointed out that Manning threw 24 interceptions as a rookie, then only 15 the next year.

Let's also not pin the entire blame for that 59.8 rating on Freeman. It was clear that the Bucs' offense was in transition last year. It's leading receiver from 2008, Antonio Bryant, struggled with a knee injury and produced less than half of his '08 numbers. Newly-acquired tight end Kellen Winslow gradually became the focal point of the passing attack. The running game was not nearly as effective as the team had expected, though some of that was the result of commonly playing from well behind in the first half of the season. The team's second-leading pass-catcher among receivers was a rookie seventh-rounder, Sammie Stroughter.

The Bucs were 0-7 when Freeman took over, and he promptly led them to victory over the playoff-bound Green Bay Packers in his first start. Through his first four starts, Freeman had a respectable passer rating of 77.0. Then came a five-interception game in Carolina (in which he also threw for 321 yards), and his rating tumbled to 47.1 over the last five games of the season. Would Freeman have been able to reverse that trend had he had seven more starts to finish a full season? Sanchez certainly did in New York. Sanchez came out firing, with a passer rating of 74.1 and a TD/INT ration of 5/5 over his first five starts. Over his next five starts, he threw five TDs and 11 INTs and had a rating of 47.7. Over the last five he rebounded to put up marks of 68.3 and 2/4, and in the playoffs his rating soared to 92.7.

No one argues that Freeman lacks the arm strength or athleticism to be a star passer, and he actually had the highest completion percentage among the three rookie starters last year. The turnovers have to be eliminated, however. How does a good quarterback avoid interceptions? Reading defenses, making good decisions, not allowing the opposition to bait him into bad throws...all things one can expect a young quarterback to get better at with experience, if he has greatness in him. The Bucs believe Freeman does have greatness in him, and if so he's likely to unlock it because he is working very hard at his game entering his first full NFL offseason. As Shelton's piece also pointed out, Freeman has been taking it on himself for the last few months to work out and watch film day after day at team headquarters. The Bucs' official offseason program doesn't even begin until next week.

Listen, Paul, you or I can't know at this point if Freeman is going to be a star or even the long-term answer at quarterback for the Buccaneers. All we can do is look at the evidence and decide what we believe will happen. I think it's clear that the Answer Man is a believer, and apparently there are many more believers around the NFL. You may be too, Paul; it would help not to read too much into that 59.8 passer rating from 2009.

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  1. Chris Gracia of Harlingen, Texas asks:
    Why doesn't the NFL allow teams to trade their compensatory draft picks?

Answer Man: Ah, yes, compensatory picks can't be traded because...well...um...

Holy moley! I have no flipping idea!

Now, obviously, there was no reason for me to actually type that in there and then not edit it out. It's like the "aaaaargh" carved into the wall of the Cave of Kyre Banorg. Consider it a reenactment, for your benefit, of my actual reaction when I read Chris's question.

(By the way, I know the surname of Gracia is out there, but Garcia is obviously more common. If it's actually Garcia, Chris, it was your typo, not mine.)

For those not in the know, the NFL awards 32 compensatory draft picks at this time of the year. The Bucs got one earlier this week. The compensatory picks are part of the free agency system that was born with the first Collective Bargaining Agreement in 1993. Every year, the NFL Management Council assesses what each team gained or lost in free agency the previous year (using a complicated and unpublished formula). If a team is deemed to have had a net loss in the previous year's free agency, it is awarded one or more draft picks.

The size of the loss determines how many picks and where those picks are placed. This year, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Tennessee all got picks at the end of the third round, Cincy got another one at the end of the fourth and then the rest were placed after the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. The Bucs got a seventh-rounder, #253 overall. Those picks are always added on to the ends of the rounds and, as Chris correctly notes, they cannot be traded. Thus, the Bucs will definitely be picking somebody at #253 and the Detroit Lions will definitely be choosing Mr. Irrelevant two spots later.

Here's the part that surprised me when I read Chris's question: In all these years, I had never thought to question why those picks can't be traded. My knee-jerk reaction to the question, now that I finally was contemplating it was, 'Yeah, why not?' I mean, draft picks are assets, and those assets can be used in a variety of ways, whether it to be to choose players, to package with other picks to get a higher pick or to trade for a player. The Bucs, for instance, recently traded a 2011 sixth-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles to get wide receiver Reggie Brown.

So, if the team is being given an asset to replace other lost assets through free agency, why limit the way in which that asset can be used.

Here's the answer, as I now understand it, and it does make sense: The NFL really does want the system to have a means of compensation for what teams may lose in free agency, and in that way they're like pretty much every professional sports leagues out there. There are a variety of systems in place for this kind of thing, and they usually involve draft.

When a team uses a pick to take a player, they are tangibly adding something to their team. You can say that the majority of seventh-round players don't make it on their teams' rosters, but some do (hi, Sammie Stroughter!) and this system gives teams at least a chance to replace departed free agents. And, if the net loss in free agency is greater and the resulting pick is higher, such as Cincy's third and fourth-rounders this year, then the chance of successful replacement is even higher.

If teams were allowed to trade those picks, particularly the late ones, then it could at least give the appearance that the compensation isn't very significant. If teams got their late seventh-round compensatory pick and immediately turned around and traded it for somebody's fourth-string quarterback who was about to be cut, then that compensation doesn't appear very valuable.

That's what I get from the people in the know around here, Chris. The CBA itself merely states the rule rather than explaining the reasoning behind it, so I don't have any official language for you. Hope that helps.

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  1. Cathy Rich of San Antonio, Texas asks:
    What is the opera song played at Ray Jay prior to game start?

Answer Man: I know I've answered this one before, back in the day, but as I've said a few times this year, I'm willing to revisit some of these topics since I was away for several years. Still, this is another opportunity for me to point out that there are hundreds and hundreds of Bucs and football-related questions with answers in my extensive archive of columns.

That piece is part of a 24-movement cantata by composer Carl Orff called Carmina Burana. That particular composition is called O Fortuna, and you've probably heard it places other than Raymond James Stadium, too. It's obviously a very dramatic piece of music, and it has been used extensively in pop culture both non-ironically (as with the Bucs, who are trying to set a ready-for-battle mood) and ironically (as it was, presumably, Paul Blurt: Mall Cop).

Some other places you might have heard it include home games for the Pittsburgh Pirates, New England Patriots, Milwaukee Brewers and the Iowa Hawkeyes football team; The Tonight Show with Jay Leno; at Wrestle mania 14 and in such movies as Excalibur, The Hunt for Red October, The General's Daughter, Jackass: The Movie and Detroit Rock City. Oh, and did I mention, Paul Blurt: Mall Cop. I ain't going to lie - I got all that straight off of Wikipedia.

Orff was a German composer born in 1895, by the way, and Carmina Burana is his most famous work. For those who have not been to a Bucs game at Raymond James Stadium, O Fortuna accompanies the team's opening animation piece on the BucVision videoboards, which in recent years has depicted a Buccaneer pirate ship shooting down opposing teams' ships and sailing triumphantly into the stadium.

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  1. Cory Draper of Suwanee, Georgia asks:
    I just wanted to shoot a message welcoming you back! Your column was my favorite thing about this website, and I was very saddened when the Answer Man went on "hiatus" in his Answer Cave. I can't wait to read more. I immediately thought of you when Doug Flutie drop-kicked that one field goal...for it was you who taught me what a drop kick was. Teach me, oh wise Answer Man, I am ready to learn!

Answer Man: See? I wasn't making that up about the rich mine of topics already thoroughly discussed in my my archives. As Cory remembers, I discussed the rare but beautiful dropkick here and here. Check it out if you're hazy on what a dropkick is and when it can be used. The amazing thing about both answers is that I actually managed them in just a few paragraphs each. Was I more concise back then? Have I become a self-important windbag, rambling on and on? Don't answer that.

(Find way to work complimentary e-mail into Q&A column even though no actual question is asked? Check. /whistles innocently)

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  1. Bogdan of Galati, Romania asks:
    Hey A.M., Bogdan from Romania AGAIN. My question is: If a player signs a contract and something happens and he retires and then he comes back to the same team, what happens to the contract, or does he still get paid the guaranteed money if he retires?Thanks for taking the time AM. Go Bucs!

Answer Man: Yes, definitely my number one Romanian fan.

When a player retires with years remaining on his contract, he goes under the status of Reserve/Retired. He stays that way, with whatever years are left on his contract, as long as he stays retired. If you're not playing those remaining seasons, they obviously don't just go away.

If a player wishes to come back to the league and end his retirement, he must submit a written request for reinstatement to the league in order to return to "Active" status. He could then continue to play under the remaining years on his contract with his original team, or obviously the team and the player could choose to renegotiate the deal.

The only way a player under contract can retire, and then un-retire and play for a different team would be for the original team to terminate his contract after he was reinstated. The reason for that rule is, I'm sure, also obvious: It prevents a player from using retirement as a way to get out of a contract and bolt for what he perceives to be a better situation.

No, a player does not get paid any remaining guaranteed money if he retires. The team, however, does take a cap hit for that guaranteed money if the player retires and/or his contract is terminated.

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  1. Eric Leffler of Albany, NY (originally, but now Zephyrhills, Florida) asks:
    How many draft picks do the Bucs have and in which rounds?

Answer Man: Many of you out there already know this and my buddies here at Buccaneers.com wrote about it just a few days ago when the compensatory picks were announced. Still, I'm not going to pass up another opportunity to crow about how many picks the Bucs have in what many consider to be the deepest draft in years (stole that line from my buddies' piece). Plus, I got the following e-mail, too, so I thought maybe we should clarify this again:

Mike Dean of Thomaston, Georgia asks:
I see the Bucs have 3 first round picks. Which order or number are the picks? I know we have the 3rd overall but where are the other 2?

The Bucs have just one first-round pick, Dean, not three. However, don't be disappointed by that news. What you've probably heard is that the Bucs have three of the first 42 picks, which is true and is also awesome. That's the third overall pick plus the third and 10th picks in the second round. If you believe the experts that are calling this the deepest draft in years (by a long shot, thanks to all the talented junior entrants), then having two picks high in the second round is very much like having picks in the second half of the first round in most years.

Teams are certainly behaving as if their second-round picks have huge value this year, as you aren't seeing them being traded around the league, even with all of the tempting restricted free agents out there. (Signing a restricted free agent from another team forces you to send back specific draft-pick compensation, so sometimes the two teams will work out a sign-and-trade instead and send a less painful pick over in the deal.) He wasn't a restricted free agent, but WR Anquan Boldin went from the Cards to the Ravens for third and fourth-round picks, and even that was considered a pretty sizeable payment around the league.

Anyway, to finish up answering Eric's initial question, the Buccaneers currently own 11 picks in the 2010 draft, including the compensatory pick at the end of the seventh round that was awarded earlier this week. The Bucs are slotted third in every round and have their own pick in every round except the fifth, as that fifth-rounder was the second part of their trade to get TE Kellen Winslow last year (the first part was a 2009 second-rounder). However, the Bucs gained a fifth back by trading TE Alex Smith to New England, so that's pretty much a wash.

The Bucs extra pick in the second round came from Chicago in the Gaines Adams trade, and the Answer Man really wishes Adams was now gearing up for his second season with the Bears. The Bucs pick 67th overall in Round Three, 101st in Round Four and 153rd (with New England's pick) in Round Five.

After making the 172nd overall pick in the sixth round, the Bucs will have four more picks in the seventh, at 210, 217, 232 and 253 overall. Number 210 is Tampa Bay's own, while #217 came from Jacksonville for Luke McCown and #232 came from Baltimore for Marques Douglas. Lest you think that the sixth and seventh-round picks are meaningless, the Bucs got Stroughter in that round last year, as I seem intent on mentioning 800 times in this column. The team also believes seventh-round CB E.J. Biggers, who spent his rookie year on injured reserve, has a very real chance to make it. Last year's sixth-round pick was used to move up two spots in the first round to make sure the Bucs got their hands on Josh Freeman.

You could counter that Stroughter and maybe Biggers are exceptions to the rule, that seventh-rounders haven't paid off much for the Bucs over the last decade. Please do. You won't get an argument. Part of the Bucs' laser-like focus on this draft in particular and building through the draft in general is a new emphasis on trying to make those later-round picks work. They can and should produce good players, maybe not every time but at least on a semi-regular basis.

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  1. Chris M. of Tampa, Florida asks:
    After reading your latest column in regards to the possibility of an expansion team and the possible rumors of two teams in L.A. it got me wondering what the guidelines are for the league to add expansion teams. I would assume that they would need to add a minimum of two teams but could there be three teams? Does there have to be an equal number of teams?

Answer Man: The topic Chris is referring to was my answer to the question of whether I thought either an expanded season (more regular season games) or league expansion (more teams) was anywhere on the NFL's horizon. It was an educated guess, but I suggested that an expanded season was much more likely to happen any time soon than expansion beyond 32 teams. Part of my evidence was that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made several statements supporting the idea of a longer regular season over the past year. I did not point out then but will add now that Goodell has also been quoted as saying he does not think league expansion is "on the front burner right now."

Hypothetically speaking then, would the league insist on expanding by an even number of teams? There certainly is no official guideline saying that it has to, and indeed the NFL played with an uneven 31 teams from 1999 through 2001, after the dormant Cleveland Browns franchise came back into play. (The original Browns team had moved to Baltimore in 1996, and as part of the agreement that team became the "expansion" Baltimore Ravens while the name Browns stayed in Cleveland. When the Browns came back in 1999 (not technically an expansion team, though constructed like one), they did so alone. It was a bit of a pain, as the league had to make sure it had at least one team on a bye every week of the season. That was particularly awkward for the teams getting weeks one or 17 off.

It was with a sigh of relief from the schedule-makers that the Houston Texans expansion team was added in 2002. Make no mistake, there might have been a three-year stagger between the Browns return and the Texans' start-up, but the former definitely made the latter a necessity in the league's eyes.

Let's look at previous expansions, beginning in 1960. The NFL had held steady at 12 teams since 1951, but expanded by one in 1960, the same year the AFL began play with eight teams of its own. The new team in 1960 was the Dallas Cowboys, giving the league 13 teams, but the league had already granted a 14th franchise to Minnesota, which began play the next year.

The pattern repeated itself midway through the decade, with the Atlanta Falcons coming online in 1966 (15 teams) and the New Orleans Saints evening things out in 1967. It was clear the NFL enjoyed the symmetry of the 16-team thing, because they immediately realigned the league into four four-team divisions (sound familiar?). The next expansion wasn't really expansion at all but a merger, as the NFL and AFL came together to form a 26-team league. The NFL realigned again into the two conferences you're used to, the AFC and NFC, with all of the incoming AFL teams going into the AFC. Because it was only 10 teams from the AFL joining the NFL's 16, three NFL teams had to "switch" to the AFC, an honor that fell to Baltimore (now Indianapolis), Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

That realignment produced the divisions that became so traditional despite some strange geographic pairings. It created the foundation, for instance, for the intense NFC East rivalries between Dallas, Philly, Washington and the New York Giants, but it also put Atlanta in the NFC West and St. Louis (now Arizona) in the NFC East.

The next expansion paved the way for the Answer Man (just kidding), as it brought Seattle and Tampa Bay into the league together in 1976. The 28 teams became 30 in 1995 when Carolina and Jacksonville were added. For both of those expansions, the new teams were simply shoehorned into existing divisions, which left the Bucs making annual trips north to participate in the NFC Central and Carolina joining Atlanta in the "West."

Which brings us back to the Cleveland-Houston additions and the 32-team league that was once again neatly realigned into four-team divisions (eight this time, and without the geographical anomalies for the most part). From that history, I think it's clear that the NFL does not require that expansion happen in even numbers in any given year, but that odd-numbered expansion is considered a temporary situation. If the NFL expanded again - and once again, I think that is unlikely any time soon - it would likely be two teams, not one or three.

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  1. Tyler T. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania asks:
    Will Tampa sign any big free agents this offseason? And why haven't they made a move yet?

Answer Man: First let me note that Tyler's e-mail was sent on March 8. That was just three days into free agency and it was before the Bucs traded for Brown or signed safety Sean Jones and linebacker Jon Alston. Still, it's telling that Tyler did send his e-mail when he did, just a few days after the market opened, because there seems to be a widely-shared opinion that all that matters in free agency is the initial rush.

It's true that the handful of really big names (not necessarily the best values, but definitely players with star-caliber reputations) usually come off the board fast, and that happened this year with the Julius Peppers signing in Chicago, the Karlos Dansby move to Miami and the Kyle Vanden Bosch addition in Detroit. But the majority of NFL teams sit out that first rush and then take a steady, reasoned approach to free agency. Throw in the fact that there is much less available on the unrestricted free agent market - more than 200 players who would have hit the market in a normal year were instead restricted free agents this year - and this was bound to be a slower free agency period around the entire league.

Now, are the Bucs going to sign any big free agents? If I can read into what you mean by "big" - names like Peppers or Antonio Cromartie (acquired by the Jets via trade) - then, no, I don't think you will see that happen. Never say never, because in each player's case it's a matter of determining if the signing would make the team better, now and in the future. Overall, though, I would say management has made it very clear that the primary source for adding vital assets to the team this offseason will be the draft.

Instead, I think you will see value additions like the ones the team has already made. You have to understand that these players being added are pieces to the puzzle, not individual saviors. I see a lot of letters in my inbox asking me why the Bucs would add Brown instead of a bigger-name receiver, especially given Brown's last two years in Philly, which were not nearly as productive as the first three. My answer is that Brown is not the answer to the Bucs' need at receiver, he's potentially a part of the answer. Giving up a sixth-round pick in a 2011 draft that is expected to be significantly weaker than this year's draft (thanks to all the junior entrants this year) for a player who averaged 50 catches a year from 2005-07 and is still south of 30. Why not? The Bucs believe Brown can return to his '05-'07 level of productivity given a greater opportunity than he had the last two years in Philly, but whether they are right or wrong about that in the long run doesn't preclude them from working on the receiver position in other ways.

Meanwhile, Jones will compete for a starting job in the secondary and Alston is considered a very strong special teams performer, which the Bucs emphasize as well as any team in the league. Perhaps after the draft, when the team knows what needs it has been able to address and which ones remain, there will be some additional free agency action. Actually, that is generally true around the league.

General Manager Mark Dominik said it again the other day, so I'll repeat it here: There are no fiscal restraints keeping the Buccaneers from signing free agents. There is no doubt that Dominik intends to build a new long-term core of players through the draft, as the Bucs did in the mid-'90s en route to the franchise's best and longest era of success. This year's draft is key to that, as has been pointed out by me and others ad nauseam (but it's still true), so the Bucs are focusing much of their offseason attention in that direction. However, if a signing off the free agent market makes sense within the Bucs plans - as Sean Jones did - the team won't hesitate to do so.

**

  1. Adam of Ventura, California asks:
    I've been a Bucs fan my whole life and this bit of trivia popped in my mind the other day. John Lynch, my personal favorite all-time Buccaneer and feared safety, has two kickoffs in his stats for a total of 90 yards. This was from the game when Martin Gramatica injured himself during his celebration. My question is this, are there any similar stats around the NFL that make you go "HUH?"

Answer Man: Oh, man, is this fertile ground! I'll have to limit myself to a few scattershot examples, because I could probably spend all day looking up and verifying little nuggets like this.

Without looking it up, I can add, Adam, that Lynch also has one rushing attempt on his ledger, for a whopping 40 yards. If you sort the Bucs' list of all-time rushers by yards per attempt, and don't exclude anybody due to the number of their attempts, then Mr. Lynch is number one with that gaudy 40.0. That came about on a fake punt, where Lynch was playing the fullback position (that player that stands about halfway between the long-snapper and the punter and calls for the play to begin). He took a direct snap, dashed straight up the middle, gained 40 yards and might have even scored if he wasn't astonishingly tackled in the open field by the return man. That return man: Joey Galloway, then playing for the Seattle Seahawks in a Bucs-Seahawks game in 1996. Trivia!

I swear I did all of that from memory. However, just to verify that I was still right about Lynch leading the team in rushing average, I opened that file and did the sort. Yep, he was still on top, but I was not aware who ranked second, and I found it kind of amusing. Michael Husted, the team's kicker from 1993-98! When the heck did that happen? Memory failing me on that one, I looked it up and was reminded that it occurred in a 1998 game against the Tennessee Titans. It was a fake field goal that worked...kind of. With 12 seconds left in the first half, the Bucs faced a fourth-and-12 at the Titans' 26-yard line. Husted lined up for an apparent 44-yard field goal attempt, but took a direct snap and ran around right end for a 20-yard gain. However, since he was tackled at the six by LB Joe Bowden with two seconds left, the Bucs had to kick a field goal anyway. He did make it, at least, from 24 yards out.

But kickers with occasional carries on fake field goals, that's not really that weird. And you've probably already heard about the extra point that Buccaneers offensive lineman George Yarno kicked (straight-on style) in the 1983 season finale against Detroit. Let's find some things that really make you go hmmm, like C&C Music Factory thinking "conceive" means "give birth."

A couple Buc things first. How about Keenan McCardell, a wide receiver, owning the fifth-longest return of an opponent's fumble in team history? Everybody else on the top-five list is a defensive player, but McCardell made it on October 6, 2003 after Mike Doss intercepted a Brad Johnson pass but was then stripped of the ball by John Wade after a 15-yard return. McCardell streaked into the picture, caught the hopping ball on a dead sprint and ran untouched 57 yards for the score. (Fantasy football players may remember that the play was scored as a defensive touchdown, though McCardell scored two other times that night, so all was forgiven.) You know, the Answer Man really enjoyed the first 56 minutes of that game. The last four? Better left forgotten.

Another relatively obscure Buccaneer receiver, Vince Heflin, actually did the same thing 17 years before McCardell, intercepting a lateral after an interception in Chicago in 1986 (that's scored as a fumble recovery) and returning it 48 yards for a score.

Or how about the fact that, on the only kickoff return of his career, 324-pound offensive lineman Todd Washington gained 22 yards? Now, it's not unusual for a one of the big guys to get a kickoff return here or there, because they're on the field as blockers and sometimes a short kick comes there way. Usually, however, the big man in question gets just a few yards, putting both hands over the ball and just plowing forward.

On October 28, 2001, Washington had other ideas when Minnesota kicker Gary Anderson squibbed a kick in his direction. DE Steve White actually tried to field it first, but when it bounced through White's hands Washington picked it up, tucked it under his left arm and barreled straight upfield. Straight into the path of Minnesota LB Fearon Wright. The resulting collision was epic, and it ended with Wright on the ground (and, sadly, soon to be out for the year with a shoulder injury) and Washington at a dead stop but still on his feet. The big linemen did what came naturally, darting off to his right and somehow finding a lane all the way to the Minnesota 44.

Or how about a punter scoring one point? That happened in 1989 when Chris Mohr, holding for an extra point attempt by Donald Igwebuike, found the snap headed for his chest rather than his hands. He managed to catch the ball but was in no position to put it on the ground, so he simply spun to his right and ran to corner of the end zone for the conversion. It only counted as one point, because the NFL had yet to institute the two-point conversion option.

But enough about the Bucs (if it's possible to get enough). How about Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith scoring a safety last season? Ask yourself how a running back is going to be in position to get a safety, which is primarily the province of defensive players. Obviously, it could happen on special teams on some sort of fluky play, like a punt snap going over the punter's head and rolling around in the end zone, but how many backs are rushing the punter around the league?

Well, I looked it up and Smith got his two points thanks to an ill-advised move by St. Louis Rams safety James Butler in Week Seven. With the Rams leading 3-0 in the second quarter, Stafford tried to hit RB Aaron Brown in the end zone on third-and-10 from the St. Louis 12. Butler intercepted the pass in the end zone and decided to run it out; however, after exiting the end zone he then went back into the painted grass and was subsequently tackled by Smith. Of course, the Rams still won, 17-10, for their only victory of the year.

Miami running back Ronnie Brown threw more touchdown passes (one) than he caught last year. That's obviously because the Dolphins make liberal use of the Wildcat formation, with Brown taking a shotgun snap from center, but it's still weird to see that stat line on a tailback.

You might already know this one, but linebacker Mike Vrabel, most recently of the Kansas City Chiefs, has a rather remarkable career line as a pass-catcher. Playing fullback in goal-line situations, he has caught nine passes in his career, and another two in the playoffs, and all of them have gone for touchdowns. Every single one of his TD catches has been officially either a one or a two-yard catch. He is the most efficient producer of touchdowns per reception in NFL history.

Denver's Tony Scheffler had one interception for five yards last year, which doesn't seem too remarkable until you remember that Scheffler is a tight end. Scheffler's pick was an unusual end to a weird game. You may recall (especially if you had taken Cincinnati in Week One in your office's knockout pool) that the Bengals were on the verge of victory after scoring on a Cedric Benson one-yard run with 38 seconds to play. However, Bengals CB Leon Hall tipped a pass intended for WR Brandon Marshall on the sideline on the ensuing drive and the deflection went right to WR Brandon Stokley, who raced untouched to the end zone for an 87-yard score. The Bengals had time for one Hail Mary pass when they got the ball back, but Denver put Scheffler on the field for his height and hands and Scheffler made the pick.

Well, I suppose I could go on, but I'm admittedly looking these up now. There's probably an endless supply of quirky stats out there. Strange stuff happens in the NFL all the time and it's a blast when you happen to witness it.

**

  1. Ryan of Orlando, Florida asks:
    Answer Man- You remind me a lot of my favorite sports writer Mike Silver. Anyways within the last several years there have been many rule changes. The force out rule, defenseless receivers, quarterback's legs, head, spleen (still love Chris Simms), you know what I mean. I know that the competition committee meets each year to evaluate the play of that year and improve. My question is how active was the competition committee prior to the year 2000. How many rule changes were made in previous decades as opposed to this decade?

Answer Man: Oh, the Competition Committee has been around for a long, long time and it is always very active. There have been some years along the way in which very little about the game is changed, but more often than not some rule or another gets tweaked.

You're right that there have seemingly been a lot of hot-button issues in recent years - horse-collar tackles, quarterback-protection rules, helmet radios for defensive players, abolishment of the forceout rule and this year's big one, modified sudden death - but I think that's just a matter of ever-increasing coverage. There have definitely been years when much more sweeping changes were adopted, but there are just so many more avenues for public debate these days that the most recent changes seem like the biggest thing ever.

Take 1974 for example. In one fell swoop during that offseason, the NFL added overtime for the regular season, moved the goal posts to the back of the end zone, moved the kickoff back to create more returns, changed the rules on how receivers could be blocked at the line and touched downfield, reduced the penalties for holding and tripping and more. (Obviously, much of that was designed to add scoring and excitement to the game).

Now, I should point out right now that the Competition Committee itself never changes the league rules. The Committee is definitely very influential, and it's essentially the place where big changes to how the game is played get started. Each year, the Committee reviews the previous season, discusses the hot issues and makes recommendations to the league owners regarding rule changes. That is exactly what took place this week with the modified sudden death rule change for the postseason. It was actually team owners, voting 28-4 in favor of the new system, who made it a reality.

The Competition Committee has been around since...well, I'm not exactly sure, at least under its current name. I can find references to it by that name as far back as the 1960s, and those references make it clear that the committee wasn't new. It was most likely an evolution of the NFL's Rules Committee, which was first formed in 1932. It has included some of the most influential names in the history of the NFL, such as Tex Schramm and Wellington Mara. The Committee currently consists of eight members: co-chairs Rich McKay of the Atlanta Falcons and Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans along with Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, Houston's Rick Smith, the Giants' John Mara, the Ravens' Ozzie Newsome, Indy's Bill Polian and the Cowboys' Stephen Jones.

But back to what I believe is the real meat of your question, Ryan. Since the official birth of the NFL in 1920, there have essentially been no decades that have not featured extremely important rule changes. Well, the '20s were more about establishing the league, franchises coming and going, eligibility rules for college players, etc, but the changes have been pretty constant since the '30s. Let's take a look at a few...and realize that this is just the tip of the iceberg:

1930s: The forward pass is legalized from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage, hash marks were added for placement of the ball, the goal post was moved to the goal line; the player waiver rule is adopted; the draft was born; roughing the quarterback became a penalty.

1940s: Overtime was added for playoff games; free substitution was adopted (and then later withdrawn); the hash marks were moved closer to the middle of the field; passes hitting the crossbar were considered incomplete; coaching from the bench was legalized; a fifth official (the back judge) was added to the field; a tee was added for kickoffs.

1950s: Free substitution returned (that one's considered a biggie because it kicked off the era of platoons and specialization in the NFL); offensive linemen were ruled ineligible to catch passes; the ball became dead when any part of the ballcarrier except his hands or feet touched the ground (now THAT seems like a big one to the Answer Man); the facemask penalty was added.

1960s: The facemask penalty was extended to now include the ballcarrier (hey, there's an idea); a sixth official (line judge) was added; the modern-era goal posts were made standard. (I guess you could say the '60s weren't completely awash in rules changes, but the game definitely evolved greatly in that era with the rise of the AFL and its more wide-open style.)

1970s: In addition to all the ones from 1974 that I listed above, there were these...The hash marks were moved even closer to the center of the field; ties now counted as half-a-win in the standings; the jersey-numbering system you're now used to was adopted; the 30-second clock was added; contact with receivers was further restricted in order to open up the passing game; the head slap was outlawed; offensive linemen were allowed to extend their arms and open their hands during pass-blocking; wide receivers were prohibited from clipping; the in-the-grasp option for officials on plays when the quarterback was being tackled was added; extended the zone where crack-back blocks were outlawed. That's an awful lot, and again, it was all intended to "open up" the game and increase player safety.

1980s: New additions were made to the actions that could be considered personal fouls, such as striking the head, face or neck; the 45-second clock was added; instant replay was first adopted (and later repealed); a new steroids policy was introduced.

1990s: The two-point conversion was added; the kickoff spot was moved back to the 30 and the tees were lowered; after missed field goals, the other team now gets the ball at the spot of the kick; the inactive third quarterback can now enter the game; helmet radios were added for quarterbacks; hitting with the helmet becomes a personal foul; the 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty was added; instant replay returns with a challenge system; clipping becomes illegal everywhere on the field.

2000s: Celebration penalties are added (leading to some really creative celebrations, really); taunting rules are tightened; hitting the pylon means the player is inbounds (I really paraphrased that one); the incidental facemask penalty is removed; and, well, I can skip most of these because we've already discussed some of them and your question regarded pre-2000s rule changes.

Again, the sudden death changes are the big story, but there will likely be a few more rule changes before the owners' series of offseason meetings are over. The big one last year was the expansion of replay to allow officials to use it on plays where what might have been a fumble was ruled incomplete. A wild play in Denver between the Broncos and the Chargers near the end of the 2008 season made sure that issue was on the front burner. Still, there were a handful of other rules that received a little less attention but were still important: the abolishment of the wedge on kickoffs, the protection of defenseless receivers from blows to the head or neck, the removal of the re-kick after an illegal onside kick, etc.

The game is always evolving, Ryan. Nowadays, we're just paying more attention to it as it happens.

**

  1. Devin Leech of Spring Hill, Florida asks:
    What was the biggest or most significant trade the Buccaneers made on draft day?

Answer Man: I've addressed the Bucs' history of trades on several other occasions (did I mention those archives?) so I'm going to make an unusual choice, for me, and get right to the point. The only clarification I'll make is that Devin says "on draft day," so I'm going to stick with just those deals, excluding draft-related coups like getting a second-round pick from Cleveland for TE Harold Bishop a month after the 1995 draft (the pick was later used to get Mike Alstott).

In other words, I'm not going to do an extensive rundown of the Bucs' draft-weekend trade history. Instead, I'll just list my top three, chosen by a hard-working panel of one. Here they are in ascending order, leading to my top choice.

3. Erickson to Colts:Planning to start second-year QB Trent Dilfer on opening day in 1995, the Bucs were looking to move former starter Craig Erickson as the draft approached. They talked to several teams but found a taker as Day One of the draft dawned in the Indianapolis Colts. Indy agreed to ship a first-round pick in the 1996 draft to the Buccaneers in exchange for Erickson, a deal that in some sense made up for Tampa Bay's disastrous decision to send a 1992 first-rounder to Indy in 1990 for QB Chris Chandler.

Not only was Erickson ticketed for a backup position had he stayed in Tampa, but as it turned out he would make only six more starts in his career. He lasted one season in Indy, making three starts, then finished up with a few years in Miami. Meanwhile, Dilfer would start the next 71 consecutive games, in essence making the backup quarterback position less important.

That's not much to give up, then, for a first-round pick. New Head Coach Tony Dungy put that pick to use in 1996 as he began rebuilding the Bucs' defense, using it on defensive tackle Marcus Jones after the Bucs' own first-rounder was spent on defensive end Regan Upshaw.

Jones never developed into a superstar, but he did play six seasons for the Bucs, eventually converting to defensive end, and in 1999-2000 produced a combined 20 sacks.

2. 1997 Maneuvers Produce Pro Bowlers: The Bucs went into the 1997 draft with two first-round picks, the extra one a product of trading its second-rounder to San Diego the year before. That trade was obviously a good one, but it was eventually used on Reidel Anthony, who never quite lived up to the billing of the 16th overall selection in '97.

Despite holding those two picks, the first of which was #8 overall, the Bucs didn't plan to sit still. Instead, Tampa Bay first traded up two spots to #6, giving a fourth-round pick to the Jets to make that move. The Bucs didn't stay there long, however, following that up with a trade back to #12 with Seattle, gaining a high third-round pick in the process. The pair of trades still left the Bucs in position to grab RB Warrick Dunn, who became a Pro Bowler in his rookie season, and essentially transformed a fourth-round pick into a third-rounder.

And that was crucial. The pick gained from Seattle was the third one in the third round, and the coup wasn't so much that the Bucs used it on guard Frank Middleton. Middleton became a starter for the Bucs and a fine player, but if Tampa Bay hadn't gained that extra pick, they would have had to use their own third-rounder (#6 in the round) on the Arizona guard. Had they done that, they never would have drafted a certain cornerback out of Virginia named Ronde Barber.

3. All the Right Moves in 1995. This one was also a series of trades that resulted in some perfect draft positioning.

First, the Bucs moved back five spots in the first round, swapping with Philly from seven to 12. Philly took Combine Warrior Mike Mamula while the Bucs happily watched Warren Sapp fall to them in the 12-spot. To swing the deal, Philly gave the Bucs two second-round picks and Tampa Bay sent back a third-rounder.

That would already be a good deal, but the Buccaneers made it oh-so-much better by then turning those two newly-acquired second-rounders into a late first-round pick by trading them to the Cowboys, who were always on the move on draft weekend in those days. The Bucs came up to #28 overall to get linebacker Derrick Brooks, and the rest is history.

The first round of the Bucs' 1995 draft has to be considered one of the best single-round efforts of all time, as it produced two likely Hall of Famers. Obviously, the Bucs' scouting staff targeted the right players, but what also should be remembered is that the team's draft strategists had to do quite a bit of maneuvering on the clock in order to get in position for those picks.

**

Let's wrap these up with a couple "quickies." As usual, these are questions that either require little explanation or have been addressed in previous Answer Man columns.

  1. Taylor of Johnstown (of indeterminate state, maybe Pennsylvania?) asks:
    How many drafted Bucs have gone to different teams and made it to the Hall of Fame?

Answer Man: Just one so far: QB Steve Young. And even that one has an asterisk by it, as the Bucs drafted Young not out of college but in a USFL dispersal draft in 1985.

**

  1. Zach of Pittstown, New Jersey or New York, not sure which, asks:
    Do you think Ronde Barber will have a shot at the Hall of Fame?

Answer Man: After careful consideration, and with an effort to put my obvious homerism aside, yes I do. I said is much in my last column, without specifically pointing out a few things. One, Barber was recently named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s. Two, he is the only cornerback in league history with 20 career sacks and 20 career interceptions and he's got a shot at becoming just the second 30/30 man in league annals. Three, he was a huge part of turning the Bucs from a perennially struggling team into a Super Bowl champion.

**

Rick Wilsom of Kingman, Hey Why Doesn't Anybody Tell Me Their State Anymore asks:
What was the final score of Super Bowl 37?

Answer Man: That's XXXVII to you, bub, and it was Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21. Was it really easier to send that question to me than look it up in about 1,000 places on line, though?

**

Todd of Freeport, Illinois asks:
Is there going to be a draft party this year since the 1st round got moved to Thursday night?

Answer Man: Good question, Todd, with a good answer: Yes! The Bucs' Draft Day Party Presented by Miller at Raymond James Stadium is very much on. It will be held on that Thursday evening, April 22, when the first round of the draft is conducted. It's free, as always, it's open to the public, it's a ton of fun, and you can get there early (say, 5:00 p.m. when the doors open) to get fully into it before the Bucs make their pick.

**

Okay, that will do it for this me this week. I've got to rush out and get a copy of Mall Cop for its amazing soundtrack. Please keep the questions coming; it seems like I can never quite get to all of them, but I try to hit as many of them as I can. See you again in two weeks and Go Bucs!

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