NFL

What’s With the Green Dots on NFL Helmets and How Many Players Have Them?

As the NFL evolves, so does the technology the league uses. Whether it’s radios or tablets you see quarterbacks reading on the sideline, the sport is always growing. One thing that’s changed over the years is the way the coaching staffs communicate with their players on the field. 

You may have noticed that some of the players have a green dot on the back of their helmets. This little marker actually plays a big role in the game. Here’s everything you need to know about the green dots on NFL helmets.

The history of player/coach in-game communication

In the early days of the NFL, there was no on-field communication between players and coaches. Then, an innovation introduced radios into the pro game.

In the 1950s, two Ohio inventors created a small radio receiver that they inserted into the helmet of Cleveland Browns then-quarterback George Ratterman. They got away with it for four games before the Lions suspected something and reported them to the league. Then-commissioner Bert Bell was unhappy with this, and the Browns were ordered to stop. 

For years, no on-field communication between players and coaches was allowed. However, this all changed in 1993.  

Why do NFL players have green dots on their helmets?

In 1993, the NFL shortened the play clock from 45 to 40 seconds. Teams weren’t happy with this; it led to the coaches having to burn more timeouts. So, in 1994, the league allowed quarterbacks to have a radio in their helmets so they could communicate with the sideline.

The major sticking point was that QBs could only communicate with the coach on the sideline, not coordinators in the booth. The league assigned a representative to each game to ensure both teams were on the same frequency.

From 1994 to 2012, the NFL used analog radio. The league switched to digital in 2012. The players with green dots are the only ones with the ability to communicate. From 1994 to 2008, only quarterbacks were allowed to do so. In 2008, defenses got in on the action. 

How many players have green dots on their helmets? 

Jimmy Garoppolo of the San Francisco 49ers stands on the sidelines
Jimmy Garoppolo of the 49ers on the sidelines | Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In 2008, the NFL allowed defensive players to wear radios, too. The issue: There isn’t a clear-cut “captain” on the defense like there is on offense. Many NFL teams have the middle linebacker use the radio, but personnel can change quickly. So when the green dots were added to the defense, the NFL had to do something.

Regarding how many players have the dots on their helmet, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was asked about it in an interview, according to Steelers.com. He said there are three players allowed to have the dot: 

“By rule, we can have three guys, because the NFL acknowledges that a second-level defender wearing the green dot, whoever he may be, is not an all-situations player.

Sometimes you may have a guy who stands in front of your huddle on first and second downs, and he’s a Vince Williams-type, and on third down you might have an oversized safety standing in front of your defense.” 

Because of the nature of defensive substitutions, it makes sense that more defensive players than offensive players would require communication. A quarterback is generally on the field for every offensive play, barring a trick play. On defense, substitutions for different types of situations are much more common.

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