99 to 9: Why NFL stars Jaylon Smith, Jalen Ramsey and others paid thousands to switch to single-digit numbers

Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson, Los Angeles Rams corner Jalen Ramsey and Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith are among the many NFL stars who have switched this season to numbers that are nontraditional for their positions.

The league relaxed its restrictions on positional numbering earlier this year, opening the door for players from nearly every position group to swap their old number for a single digit (sorry, linemen).

The new numerals symbolize many things: a fresh start after a disappointing season, a way to pay homage to family or a tribute to pee wee, high school and college glory days.

In the cases of players who joined new teams, the exchange cost nothing. But for those remaining with their clubs, NFL rules required a player to buy out inventory of his existing jersey in order to make an immediate change — a payout that reached six figures for some.

ESPN’s NFL Nation became intrigued not only by the changes in numbers, but the reasons behind them. Here is what we found out.


Budda Baker, S, Arizona Cardinals

No. in 2020: 32
2021 change: 3

Baker wore No. 32 in college at Washington, started his NFL career in No. 36 and then switched back to No. 32. But the allure of No. 3 was too great. “I can have my own legacy in a sense and have my own number,” Baker said. “I really liked 3 growing up.” It wasn’t cheap to buy out his inventory, though. Baker said it cost him “a pretty penny.” — Josh Weinfuss

Marquez Callaway, WR, New Orleans Saints

No. in 2020: 12
2021 change: 1

Callaway wore No. 1 in high school and in college at Tennessee. Saints safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson — a former rival at Florida — also said he wanted No. 1 at first, and Callaway said he “thought we were going to have a wide receiver-DB match” for it. But fortunately Gardner-Johnson changed his mind. — Mike Triplett

Carlos Dunlap, EDGE, Seattle Seahawks

No. in 2020: 43
2021 change: 8

Dunlap wore No. 43 after being traded last October because No. 96, which he wore with the Bengals, is retired by the Seahawks. Now, he has switched back to his number at Florida. “I felt like it was a sign, that it was an opportunity in Year 12 with the 12s. Twelve years earlier I was No. 8, so it just felt right to me.” — Brady Henderson

Caleb Farley, CB, Tennessee Titans

No. in 2020: 23
2021 change: 3

Farley said No. 3 was his mother’s favorite number. “I had to pray for it. It’s my favorite number and my mother’s favorite number so there’s a lot of meaning behind it for me,” said Farley, whose mother, Robin, died of cancer in 2018. Farley wearing No. 3 as a rookie is also of interest because head coach Mike Vrabel makes rookies earn their keep. He lists them lower on the depth chart, for example. Farley wore the number at Virginia Tech as well. — Turron Davenport

Leonard Fournette, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

No. in 2020: 28
2021 change: 7

Fournette is from the 7th Ward in New Orleans. “That’s where I’m born and raised,” Fournette said. “That’s just me. That’s what I represent. I’m so big on giving back to where I’m from and it really represents how special that place is to me. … It was a special number to me in college, so I’m like why not wear it again?” — Jenna Laine

KJ Hamler, WR, Denver Broncos

No. in 2020: 13
2021 change: 1

For Hamler, it was a throwback to his Penn State days. He flashed his game-changing speed as a Broncos rookie in 2020 but spent much of last season dealing with a persistent hamstring issue. He’s hoping the switch to No. 1 is the start of a much better Year 2. — Jeff Legwold

Melvin Ingram III, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers

No. in 2020: 54
2021 change: 8

Ingram wanted a fresh start when he arrived in Pittsburgh, and the No. 8 has a dual meaning. “New place, new start,” he said. “Still the same me, though. First time I ever played football, my number was 44 — 4 plus 4 is 8, and Kobe [Bryant] is one of my favorite athletes.” — Brooke Pryor

Eddie Jackson, S, Chicago Bears

No. in 2020: 39
2021 change: 4

Jackson switched because he wore No. 4 as a standout at Alabama. When asked whether the new number makes him feel younger, Jackson, 27, smiled and replied: “Most definitely.” — Jeff Dickerson

Lonnie Johnson Jr., S, Houston Texans

No. in 2020: 32
2021 change: 1

Johnson Jr. said he was looking for a “fresh start” with a new number and wanted to be part of NFL and Houston pro football history. “[I] wanted to be one of the first ones to [wear No. 1] here besides Warren Moon,” he said. — Sarah Barshop

Zay Jones, WR, Las Vegas Raiders

No. in 2020: 12
2021 change: 7

Jones, who wore No. 7 in high school and college, said it was his favorite number. But when he asked Raiders coach Jon Gruden about switching, Gruden told him: “No good receivers wear low-digit numbers.” Jones then countered with Raiders legends Fred Biletnikoff (No. 25) and Cliff Branch (No. 21). “He was kind of stunned,” Jones said. Shortly thereafter, No. 7 was his. — Paul Gutierrez

Matt Judon, OLB, New England Patriots

No. in 2020: 99
2021 change: 9

Going back to the number he wore at Grand Valley State, Judon chose No. 9 for another reason, too. “I have nine siblings. Every time I go out there, I represent them. That’s one of the reasons I rock it. Ninety-nine was taken, so I chose to use the new rule.” — Mike Reiss

Jerick McKinnon, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

No. in 2020: 28
2021 change: 1

McKinnon is in his first season with the Chiefs, but he wore No. 28 for the 49ers in 2020. He is the only Chiefs player with a nontraditional number for his position group. He wore No. 1 in college at Georgia Southern. — Adam Teicher

Jalen Mills, CB, New England Patriots

No. in 2020: 21
2021 change: 2

Mills is honoring his late uncle with the switch. “That was my uncle’s favorite number. He wasn’t a real big sports fan, but any time I did play, he did watch me. I just wanted to represent him with that.” — Mike Reiss

DJ Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers

No. in 2020: 12
2021 change: 2

https://keep-your-pants-on.com/soccer/leeds-transfer-news-marcelo-bielsa-admits-further-arrivals-at-elland-road-are-unlikely-this-summer/

Moore’s switch goes back to his little league days, when he won a championship wearing the number as a 5-year-old. He also thinks it looks good on him, and thus is worth the financial investment required. — David Newton

Emmanuel Moseley, CB, San Francisco 49ers

No. in 2020: 41
2021 change: 4

Moseley said the number is a family tradition. “No. 4 is like my family number. In high school, I wore No. 4. My cousin wore No. 4, brothers wore 4. So when that number became available, I had to take it.” — Nick Wagoner

Patrick Peterson, CB, Minnesota Vikings

No. in 2020: 21
2021 change: 7

Peterson wore No. 7 in college and in high school, and the number has sentimental value. “I always wanted to rock No. 7. I felt like 7 was my number. Like 21 is Deion’s [Sanders] number, you know what I mean? I just felt like in high school and in college, I made 7 known. You can tell. When I went to LSU, guys wanted to wear No. 7 … I felt like that’s my number.” — Courtney Cronin

Jalen Ramsey, CB, Los Angeles Rams

No. in 2020: 20
2021 change: 5

Ramsey wanted No. 2, a number he said provided a reminder that he’s second in life. But he yielded it to teammate Robert Woods. “If you look at 5 in the mirror, [it] comes back as 2,” Ramsey explained. “Then, 5 is like a number of balance, like in the Bible there are five commandments towards God and there are five commandments towards people.” — Lindsey Thiry

Isaiah Simmons, LB, Arizona Cardinals

No. in 2020: 48
2021 change: 9

Simmons wanted a fresh start after his rocky rookie season. He thought a new number would be the way to go. He said he didn’t have an attachment to No. 48, which he selected after the Cardinals picked him in the first round of the 2020 draft. — Josh Weinfuss

Jaylon Smith, LB, Dallas Cowboys

No. in 2020: 54
2021 change: 9

Smith, who wore No. 9 in high school and at Notre Dame, has an attachment to the number, which is why he chose No. 54 — 5 plus 4 equals 9 — initially. He paid six figures to buy out the remaining inventory of No. 54 jerseys and T-shirts even though 9 would have been free next season. “No. 9 is a part of me,” Smith said. — Todd Archer

Anthony Walker, LB, Cleveland Browns

No. in 2020: 54
2021 change: 4

Walker, who wore 54 most recently with the Indianapolis Colts, changed his number to 4 over the summer. That was his number when, as a quarterback, he led his pee wee team to a championship. — Jake Trotter

Robert Woods, WR, Los Angeles Rams

No. in 2020: 17
2021 change: 2

Woods jumped at the opportunity to wear No. 2, which is the number he wore playing youth and high school football in the Los Angeles area, and later at USC. “Having a chance to wear it at this NFL level is super special here in L.A., here in the hometown. It just brings just memories back for a lot of people, even myself.” — Lindsey Thiry

Source: Read Full Article