Hey, Minnesota Vikings fans, you know that expensive Dalvin Cook jersey you purchased as part of your Vikings World Order gameday fit? Or that Justin Jefferson jersey you just bought your kid over the holidays? It may soon become obsolete.
That’s just the news every NFL fan needs in this economy, huh?
That’s right! Prepare to fork over more of your hard-earned money for a new jersey, shirt, shirsey, hoodie, cap, mask, romper, or whatever else might have your favorite player’s number on it, because we’re about to see a wave of number changes.
In case you missed the news, NFL owners are expected to soon pass a proposal by the league’s competition committee that would loosen the restrictions on jersey numbers, allowing running backs, wide receivers, fullbacks, tight ends, H-backs, defensive backs, and linebackers more options.
Under the new provision, running backs, fullbacks, H-backs, tight ends, and wide receivers would be allowed to wear jerseys 1-49 and 80-89.
Defensive backs would get to choose jersey numbers in the 1-49 range.
Linebackers would be given latitude to pick from 1-59 and 90-99.
Left out of the number-changeapalooza would be quarterbacks, kickers, and punters (still stuck with 1-19) as well as offensive linemen (50-79) and defensive linemen (50-79, 90-99). But you can bet their day will eventually come.
This is a good deal for the players. Many have been calling for expanded jersey-number choices for years, especially those who might have worn numbers in college and high school (where the rules are looser) that the NFL rules prohibit due to the position they play. This proposal is therefore welcomed by the players union – a rare slice of harmony with the owners. Don’t get used to it.
From the owners’ perspective, allowing more choices will alleviate the shortage of jersey numbers that some teams have begun encountering. The argument goes that when you combine expanded practice squads, take away the options of retired jersey numbers, and then limit the numbers certain players can wear, you run out of digits between 1 and 99. No word yet on whether any teams plan to filibuster in order to allow for zero (0) and double-zero (00) jersey number options. Stay tuned, though, that might be next.
And as jarring as it might be for old-school NFL fans, players, and coaches to see a linebacker sporting an 18 on his jersey or a running back wearing No. 2, they’ve been doing it forever in college. Plus, it would probably be weirder to see triple-digit jersey numbers … or decimals, or fractions. In the college game, some players need to double up on jersey numbers due to the massive size of the rosters, with one guy wearing a number on offense and another wearing the same number on defense. In other words, this change was probably inevitable due to math and science and whatnot. It will appease the players and it solves a problem for the teams.
Oh, and it will just so happen to create more revenue for the teams. That’s just a happy little coincidence, I’m sure. On the heels of inking a massive new bazillion-dollar deal with the networks that televise or stream their immensely popular product, the NFL owners have in short order added a 17th game to the regular season (even more money) and then, without skipping a beat, started entertaining a way to siphon more cash from their fans’ pockets via jersey sales.
Raise your hand if you’re shocked.
Now put that hand back in your pocket and pull out some money to buy your new jerseys. Guys like Jefferson, who wore No. 2 at LSU before his No. 18 Vikings jersey became a hot commodity, might be considering a change. Cook wore No. 4 at Florida State but had to switch to No. 33 with the Vikings. Anthony Barr sported No. 11 at UCLA but needed to go with No. 55 with the Vikings. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
By the way, you can count former Viking Stefon Diggs among the players who have already decided, for the sake of the fans, not to change numbers.
Even if NFL teams, in their infinite goodwill, allow for a certain amount of jersey buybacks or trade-in discounts for recently purchased jerseys with old numbers, it will only account for a sliver of the money that they stand to make from all the new jersey sales. Remember, these are the same people who see dollar signs every time they get to change their jersey designs or sell alternate versions like the throwback or color rush jerseys.
And if you’re a superfan of a certain player, you’ll probably want to keep that jersey with his original number as a collector’s item. There are some Randy Moss fans out there with his No. 18 Vikings jersey from preseason of his rookie year before he switched to No. 84. You don’t part with that jersey; you get it autographed and displayed in a shadow box or something. Something similar could be in store for the Jefferson rookie jerseys … should he decide to make a switch. In such a scenario, the buyback programs or trade-in discounts won’t matter.
In short, the bigger the fan, the more jerseys one tends to own. And, once again, it’s the fans – especially the most ardent fans, who are already shelling out a lot of their discretionary income on NFL-related merchandise — who will be paying the biggest price.
It’s just part of the cost of being a sports fan.
Coming by 2025: jerseys with letters and hieroglyphics instead of numbers… oh, and advertising (obviously).