Which Patriots Could Change Jersey Numbers If NFL Relaxes Rules?

College numbers could make a comeback this season


April 5, 2021

Wide receivers wearing No. 1? Defensive backs in the teens? Linebackers in the 20s? It could happen this year in the NFL.

The Kansas City Chiefs last week proposed a rule change that would relax the league’s longstanding uniform number regulations, and according to a report Monday from NBC Sports’ Peter King, that rule is likely to pass.

The proposed new format would keep the existing framework for quarterbacks, specialists and linemen on both sides of the ball but would open up new jersey number possibilities for linebackers, defensive backs and offensive skill players.

Via King’s “Football Morning in America” column:

Quarterback, punter, kicker: 1-19
Running back, tight end, wide receiver: 1-49, 80-89
Defensive back: 1-49
Linebacker: 1-59, 90-99
Offensive line: 50-79
Defensive line: 50-79, 90-99

While we’re disappointed we won’t see any single-digit defensive tackles in the NFL this season, it will be very interesting to see which players opt for number changes if this proposal is, in fact, approved.

Here’s are some notable New England Patriots whose collegiate jersey numbers haven’t been permitted by the NFL:

— Wide receivers N’Keal Harry (Arizona State) and Julian Edelman (Kent State) and running back Sony Michel (Georgia) all wore No. 1 in college. That currently belongs to Cam Newton, though, so unless the QB fails to make the roster, it’s unlikely to change hands.

— Safety Kyle Dugger wore No. 2 as a collegian at Lenior-Rhyne. The Patriots’ top 2020 draft pick felt the jersey crunch last summer, as his current No. 35 was one of the few DB-appropriate numbers that hadn’t been claimed.

The same happened with 2020 undrafted rookie Myles Bryant (No. 5 at Washington), who had to settle for the (in our opinion) unsightly No. 41 after his early-season call-up from the practice squad.

— Another cornerback who rocked No. 5 before entering the NFL: Stephon Gilmore at South Carolina. He might opt to stick with No. 24, which previously belonged to standout Patriots corners Ty Law and Darrelle Revis.

— Cornerback J.C. Jackson switched from No. 7 at Maryland to No. 27 with the Patriots. Jonathan Jones went from No. 3 at Auburn to No. 31 in the pros. Joejuan Williams was No. 8 at Vanderbilt before grabbing No. 33 in New England.

— Tight end Matt LaCosse was No. 11 at Illinois. The chances of him prying that away from Edelman are slim. Dalton Keene, who played as an H-back at Virginia Tech, wore No. 29.

— Outside linebackers Kyle Van Noy (No. 3 at BYU), Josh Uche (No. 6 at Michigan) and Matt Judon (No. 9 at Grand Valley State) all wore single-digit numbers in college.

Chase Winovich wore No. 15 for the Wolverines. (Winovich, though, is listed as a defensive end. Would a player like him be subject to the D-line number restrictions? Unclear.)

— Safety/linebacker Adrian Phillips wore No. 17 at Texas.

— Linebacker Dont’a Hightower was No. 30 for Alabama. He sounded intrigued by the idea of sporting No. 2, which he wore Marshall County High School in Lewisburg, Tenn.

— Inside linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley was No. 4 at Purdue.

— Gunner Olszewski wore No. 36 as a defensive back/return man at Bemidji State. He was issued No. 9 during the 2019 preseason — an illustration of how long his odds of cracking the roster were — then switched to No. 80 once he made the team as a wide receiver/punt returner.

— Running back James White tweeted Monday that he’d consider changing his number. But his preferred No. 7, which he wore at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., already has an owner: All-Pro punter Jake Bailey.

White wore No. 20 at Wisconsin and has been No. 28 since joining the Patriots in 2014.

— Nos. 20 (Gino Cappelletti), 40 (Mike Haynes), 57 (Steve Nelson), 73 (John Hannah), 78 (Bruce Armstrong), 79 (Jim Lee Hunt) and 89 (Bob Dee) are officially retired in New England, so those won’t be available to any player looking to make a change.

The Patriots also have not issued No. 56 since Andre Tippett retired after the 1993 season and surely won’t let anyone else wear Tom Brady’s No. 12. Rob Gronkowski’s No. 87 might be part of this group, too, as the Patriots haven’t given it out in the two years since he left the team.

Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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