The NFL typically does not like when its players express themselves in any individual manner. Case in point: the league’s new emphasis against taunting, which now offers harsher penalties than ever before for any athlete that dares to celebrate their accomplishments. This is called the No Fun League for a reason. That’s why it felt so shocking to see the NFL actually approve a rule change that allows players more expression over the offseason.
NFL players are now allowed to wear (almost) any number they want. The days of all wide receivers wearing a number in the 80s and all linebackers wearing a number in the 50s are over. Starting this season, running backs, tight ends and receivers can wear any number from 1 to 49, in addition to numbers in the 80s. Defensive backs can wear 1-49, while linebackers can wear numbers 1-59 and 90-99.
Anyone who watched Reggie Bush rock No. 5 at USC or Mario Williams wear No. 9 at NC State knows that wearing a unique number is a small part of what makes college football so much fun. Now that freedom has arrived for NFL players, but not everyone is happy about it. The most vocal opponent of the new number change rules just so happens to be the most visible player in the league: reigning Super Bowl champion Tom Brady.
Tom Brady says on his podcast that perhaps the NFL next will have no jersey-number rules, or no jerseys at all: "You could say 'Why does anyone wear a jersey? Why does anyone have a jersey number?' Just put them out there, put them in white shirts and we'll be in blue."— Greg Auman (@gregauman) September 8, 2021
Brady went in on the new number change rules during a recent interview with the Tampa Bay Times. The Bucs are set to open the season against the Dallas Cowboys, and several defensive players have recently switched to single digit numbers. Jaylon Smith went from No. 54 to No. 9, Micah Parsons switched to No. 11, and Trevon Diggs switched to No. 7. This is happening all over the league, and Brady isn’t thrilled about it because he believes it complicates his job as a quarterback.
“The number rule is crazy,” Brady said. “Literally, guys changed their numbers today. I’m playing two guys who had different numbers in the preseason. So, yeah you’ve got to watch film and know who you’re studying but so do running backs. They’ve got to know who to block. So does the offensive line. So does the receivers who are adjusting their routes based on blitzes.
“So one guys has got a 6, one guy has 11, one guy has got a 9. And they change every play when you break your routes and get to your spot. It’s going to be a very challenging thing. It’s a good advantage for the defense, which that’s what it is.
“It would be like saying, ‘What if I let the offensive linemen wear 82 and No. 9?’ They wouldn’t know who was eligible. Well that’s not fair. You’ll get your tail kicked. At least identify who the D-line, the linebackers and the safeties are. You’re going to have a lot of matchups where guys are blocking the wrong guys. I don’t know why that should be.”
It’s fun to take Tom Brady to task, in part because he’s whooped all of our favorite teams for two decades (I’m still scarred from when he juked Brian Urlacher in 2012). Part of this feels like Brady acting like an old man, and to be fair, the dude is 44 years old. Maybe he’s raising some good points in here, too, though. Brady wants to make sure his team isn’t screwing up protections because of number changes, mostly because he wants the Bucs to win, but also because football is a violent game and he wants to keep everyone healthy. Players changing numbers, and especially changing them just before the season like Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan did, could make things harder for the offense.
There’s another point in here, though: since Brady has entered the league, almost every rule has been designed to favor the quarterback. Brady seems to be aware of this, too. He recently gave a great answer on how defenses are being penalized for offensive mistakes.
Will single-digit defensive numbers melt Tom Brady’s mind this season? Probably not. He’s one of the oldest players in NFL history, and he’s still one of the very best in today’s game. Brady will get over it. For now, we will keep poking fun at him for being legitimately flustered by this.