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In a league memo that some team executives, players and coaches believe is directly tied to Monday night's Cowboys-Redskins controversy surrounding errant snaps from Dallas rookie Phil Costa to quarterback Tony Romo, the NFL informed its clubs that as of this weekend centers no longer are required to wear a microphone for the purpose of television broadcasts.
"Clubs will have the option of having the microphone placed in the pads of the starting center OR in the pads of both starting guards," the memo reads. "If the club chooses the option of wiring both starting guards, the microphone will be opened on the pads of only one of the guards at any time ..."
The memo does not specify the reasons for a change in protocol, but players, coaches and executives who have spoken with ESPN on the condition of anonymity say they believe it is the result of persistently expressed concerns about the practice of teams using technology to detect opponents' verbal audibles, snap cadences and in-line adjustments. On Monday night, Costa claimed the opposing Redskins were shouting out simulated snap counts similar to Romo's normal cadence, which resulted in errant snaps from center.
The new collective bargaining agreement provided television networks with permission to place microphones on any offensive lineman for the purpose of enhanced audio broadcasts. Those that spoke with ESPN said that in many cases teams can isolate audio by simply recording game broadcasts and train their defensive linemen and linebackers to detect the various verbal calls that precede the center snap.
Network broadcast partners requested the right to place a microphone on an offensive linemen as a result of the league repositioning umpires, who normally were miked to provide "natural" or "ambient" sound for the viewing and listening audience.
The memo reinforced this idea by stating: "The objective of the microphones is to capture the ambient sound on the field that has been captured since the early 1990s by the microphone on the umpire up until the umpire was moved to the offensive backfield starting with the 2010 season."
Most of the players, coaches or executives contacted by ESPN expressed doubt that simply removing a microphone from the center will correct the practice of teams utilizing the sound for tactical purposes.
"How far is the guard away from the center?" one offensive player said. "Not very."
Despite the memo and club concerns, the NFL's competition committee has not been asked to intervene at this time but could address the matter at a later date, a source said.
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones had said during a Friday appearance on KRLD-FM that the league's memo reminded teams that mimicking cadence is grounds for a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. But he said that the Cowboys will have to adjust.
"We, in general though, are approaching it; we've just got to make it work," Jones said on the radio station. "We've got to get in here and have our count and have our snaps and not make it a point of concern for our quarterback and certainly not make it a point of concern for the game, because those are like turnovers and can be turnovers and do stop drives."
Costa, who also had a premature shotgun snap in the season opener, declined Thursday to respond to Redskins defensive lineman Stephen Bowen's statement that the center was "lying" about the mimicked cadences.
Dallas coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys' simply need to get the issue rectified, regardless of what a defense does.
"There's been noise on the line of scrimmage in the NFL since Pudge Heffelfinger was around," Garrett said Thursday, referring to the first man to sign a pro football contract. "So, that's how it works. We just have to understand what the issues are there and we have to focus on whose voices we're listening to and just get locked in and snap the ball the way it needs to be snapped."Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN. Information from ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon was used in this report.