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What Do the New NFL Uniform Rules Really Mean?

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At beginning of April, the powers that be at the NFL announced they were relaxing the rules surrounding numbered jerseys in the sport. After the changes, more players are able to access single-digit numbers – a privilege that had until recently been reserved exclusively for quarterbacks, kickers and punters.

While the change in regulation is unlikely to affect the predictions of NFL betting guides or influence the on-pitch fortunes of the teams as a whole, it has ruffled a few feathers among the players. Here’s a closer look at how the rules will be implemented and what they might mean for NFL squads going forwards.

What the new rules say

In most other sports, the numbers on the backs of players’ uniforms are largely used to make them more identifiable to fans, coaches and commentators. In the NFL, they have a more regulatory function, which is to allow the referee to identify whether certain players are lining up in the right position. For that reason, specific positions were tied to specific numbers.

However, the fact that more practice squad members have been made available for actual games – alongside the fact that some teams like the Kansas City Chiefs had already retired a handful of their jersey numbers – caused the NFL to relax the rules and allow more players to wear single digits. Here’s a breakdown of how the regulations will look going forwards:

Position Available numbers

  • Quarterbacks 1-19
  • Running backs 1-49, 80-89
  • Wide receivers 1-49, 80-89
  • Tight ends 1-49, 80-90
  • Offensive line 50-79
  • Defensive line 50-79, 90-99
  • Linebackers 1-59, 90-99
  • Defensive backs 1-49
  • Kickers 1-19
  • Punters 1-19

What the players say

The timing of the NFL’s announcement led some individuals to believe that it was nothing more than an April Fools’ Day hoax. Once the rule change was confirmed, however, several stars indicated they’d be looking to amend their number for the forthcoming season. In particular, a potential rivalry between Jalen Ramsey and Robert Woods of the LA Rams has emerged.

However, it was later confirmed that any player wishing to switch numbers for the 2021 season would have to purchase the entire existing inventory of jerseys for their existing number, which could cost them significantly. No such rule is applicable for 2022 if they register their interest early, meaning it might be another year before we see to many pros jumping ship.

Meanwhile, not all players welcomed the news with open arms. Seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady scoffed at the news, claiming it would make protecting the quarterback significantly more difficult for offensive linemen and would “make for a lot of bad football”. Only time will tell if those predictions come to pass, but for the present, the rule changes look set to shake up the numbered rosters of at least some of the NFL’s franchises.

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