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Bears who could change jersey numbers under proposed rule originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Change is continuing to come to the NFL in the 2021 season.
After announcing that the 2021 season will now have 17 regular season games, the NFL reportedly is expected to pass a rule that will have less restriction on the jersey numbers that players can wear.
The NFL appears to be going with a jersey structure that is similar to the college game with number ranges for defensive backs, linebackers, running backs and wide receivers into the single digits, with quarterbacks remaining at Nos. 1-19:
Running backs, wide receivers, tight ends: 1-49, 80-89
Offensive linemen: 50-79
Defensive linemen: 50-79, 90-99
Linebackers: 1-59, 90-99
Defensive backs: 1-49
Kickers and punters: 1-19
Some franchise cornerstones have become synonymous with their current number, but it is still fun to imagine them in some new threads in the upcoming campaign.
Here are five Chicago Bears who may take advantage of the potential rule change:
Current jersey number: 12 | Potential 2021 number: 8
Back with the Bears on the franchise tag for the second straight year, Robinson will have the chance to go from his current No. 12 to his college number. He wore No. 8 when he played at Penn State and could eye a new number to go along with his new quarterback in Andy Dalton.
Current jersey number: 39 | Potential 2021 number: 4
Jackson is under contract with the Bears through the 2024 season, but he can still shake things up. The new rule would allow the All-Pro safety to switch to the No. 4, which he wore in college while dominating the secondary at Alabama.
Current jersey number: 58 | Potential 2021 number: 3
Smith is in a similar situation to Jackson. The linebacker will be in Chicago for the next two seasons, but the new rule opens the door for him to rep his college number. There is a catch, though: Chicago’s No. 3 is retired for Bronko Nagurski. J.J. Watt showed earlier this offseason that a retired number can be worked around, though.
Current jersey number: 52 | Potential 2021 number: 5
Quarterbacks have become familiar with the No. 52 in their face over Mack’s seven-year career, so how about a switch to throw opposing offenses off guard? He was drafted fifth overall by the Raiders in 2014, and fans can even alter their old Mack jerseys from 52 to 5 with a little innovation. But again, there is a catch: Chicago's No. 5 is retired for George McAfee.
Current jersey number: N/A | Potential 2021 number: 14
The newcomer cornerback doesn’t have a number with the Bears yet, but he has a much bigger range to pick from than he did the first eight years of his career. Trufant has 14 career interceptions, and if he makes some more at practice opposite Dalton, maybe he can even pick off the QB1’s jersey number.
And a former Bear who could have benefited from this rule change:
Career number: 34 | Number under rule change: 85
While it’d be fun to see William Perry wear a running back number, the new rules do not have any overlap between running backs and defensive linemen. Instead, how about we let the greatest running back of all time wear the year of the greatest team of all time? Payton’s No. 34 is iconic, but it’s fun imagining him making a change to let everyone know who’s best.
Max Molski contributed to this story.