On Wednesday the NFL passed a new rule that adjusts the restrictions on which jersey numbers can be worn by players, as determined by position group. The rule—proposed by the Kansas City Chiefs—expands the number of players eligible to wear single-digit numbers, which had previously been restricted to quarterbacks, placekickers and punters.
As it stands now, running backs, tight ends, fullbacks, halfbacks and wide receivers can wear numbers 1-49 and 80-89; defensive backs can choose from 1-49; linebackers 1-59 and 90-99; offensive linemen 50-79; and defensive linemen 50-79 and 90-99. Quarterbacks, kickers and punters are still restricted to wearing 1-19.
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JuJu Smith-Schuster: ‘Should I Switch?’
Shortly after the rule change was announced, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster took to Instagram to ask whether he ought to switch from wearing No. 19 to wearing jersey No. 9, which is the number he wore in college at USC. He included a photoshopped image in which he’s wearing a No. 9 jersey, to give followers a sense of what that might look like.
Never mind that another player on the Steelers already wears No. 9, that being placekicker Chris Boswell. He replied to Smith-Schuster’s post with a note that read: “Just give me a blank check and it’s yours,” which he accompanied by a rolling-on-the-floor laughing emoji.
Other teammates and former Steelers weighed in too, including offensive tackle Zach Banner, who gave the proposal a simple thumbs down. But it seems Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis (who wore No. 6 in college at Notre Dame and switched to No. 36 in the NFL), strongly approves.
As for Steelers fans, most seem to dislike the idea. Many of the fans who responded to Smith-Schuster’s post noted that they have already spent $100+ on their No. 19 jerseys and don’t relish the idea of buying another one.
An NFL Rule Might Keep Smith-Schuster for Making the Change
Ultimately a similar issue will likely keep Smith-Schuster from seriously contemplating the change. Not only would he likely need to compensate Boswell, he would also be responsible for footing the bill for any unsold jerseys adorned with the No. 19.
The league recently told Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that “[I]f a player requests a change for the upcoming year and there is existing inventory of unsold jerseys with his current number on them, the player must purchase the unsold jerseys before the change happens…. If the player declines to do so, they can remain in the number and change the following year, at no cost.”
For a high-profile player like Smith-Schuster, the existing jersey supply could amount to a sizable amount of money, even considering that he recently signed an $8 million contract that keeps him with the Steelers through the 2021 season.
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