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Chiefs propose rule change allowing skill position players to wear single-digit numbers

Earlier this week, the NFL announced that the league’s owners will soon vote on 13 rule or bylaw changes that could go into effect as soon as the 2021 season. As part of those proposals, the Kansas City Chiefs put forth a rule change that, if implemented, would have a widespread effect across the entire NFL, on and off the field, for players, fans, broadcast networks, and more. 

How is that even possible? Well, the Chiefs proposed altering the league’s uniform rules to expand the pool of jersey numbers available to specific types of players. Kansas City’s rule change would allow all skill position players on both sides of the ball to wear any number between 1 and 49, while also allowing non-quarterback offensive skill players to wear numbers between 80 and 89. It would also allow linebackers to begin wearing numbers in the 90s. 

Here’s exactly how the change would break down: 

Position Current Rule Proposed Rule
QB 1-19 1-19
RB/FB 20-49 1-49, 80-89
WR 10-19, 80-89 1-49, 80-89
TE 40-49, 80-89 1-49, 80-89
OL 50-79 50-79
DL 50-79, 90-99 50-79, 90-99
LB 40-59 1-59, 90-99
DB 20-49 1-49
K/P 1-19 1-19

According to Pro Football Talk, the Chiefs proposed the change for two reasons. First, to minimize instances of duplicate numbers on teams when players get called up from the practice squad and during the preseason. And second, well, “It’s just fun.”

It definitely would be. Allowing offensive and defensive skill players to wear, among other things, single-digit numbers would surely result in a raft of number-changes throughout the league as running backs, receivers, defensive backs and more scrambled to pick up numbers that were available to them in high school and college but not once they reached the pros. It’d also allow for more situations like running back Ty Montgomery wearing No. 88, because he was grandfathered in after switching positions from wide receiver. 

In addition to the players that would be able to change numbers, such a rule change would necessarily affect the punters and kickers who currently wear numbers in the single-digits or teens and could soon be offered gifts in exchange for giving them up and switching to a different number. It’d affect announcers on CBS, FOX, ESPN, NFL Network, and local broadcasts who would have to get used to a whole bunch of numbers around the league. And it’d affect fans, because there would be a raft of favorite players who switched jersey numbers and inspired fans to pick up the new threads so they don’t have an out-of-date jersey. 

And that last one is why I think the rule change will pass and take effect sooner rather than later, despite the fact that the league usually does not institute rule changes that would be as fun (and universally beloved) as this one. The owners will not be able to pass up the influx of cash that would come along with this change — especially in the wake of a pandemic season where many of them either lost money or made significantly less money than they expected to prior to COVID-19 sweeping across the nation and the world.




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