The NFL adopted new playing rules and bylaws for the 2021 season on Wednesday and among the changes that were passed was a proposal by the Kansas City Chiefs to reduce the restrictions on uniform numbers for certain positions. The changes particularly open up numbers below 20 for a number of positions.
Under the new regulations, running backs, tight ends and wide receivers will now be able to wear numbers 1-49 and 80-89 and defensive backs and linebackers will also be able to wear numbers 1-49.
Linebackers will still also be able to wear 50-59 and 90-99. All offensive linemen will now be able to wear 50-79. Previously, only centers could wear numbers in the 50s.
The new rule will not change the rules for quarterbacks and kickers (1-19) and defensive lineman (50-79, 90-99).
Players that change positions have always been permitted to retain their old numbers, provided they do not change from an eligible to ineligible position or vice-versa. Steelers linebacker Marcus Allen has worn No. 27 since converting from safety.
While the league rules will now allow many players to change their numbers, players with significant jersey sales may need to give manufacturers an additional year of lead time or purchase their already printed jerseys.
The Steelers are among the teams that have had a significant uniform number crunches in the past, due to the number of jerseys out of circulation. Though the Steelers have only officially retired No. 70 for Ernie Stautner and No. 75 for Joe Greene, they have not regularly given out Gary Anderson’s No. 1, Terry Bradshaw’s No. 12, Franco Harris’ No. 32, Jerome Bettis’ No. 36, Troy Polamalu’s No. 43, Mel Blount’s No. 47, Mike Webster’s No. 52, Jack Lambert’s No. 58, Jack Ham’s No, 59, Dermontti Dawson’s No. 63 or Hines Ward’s No. 86 since those players retired.
Other Steelers Hall of Famers such as Donnie Shell, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann and Rod Woodson have routinely had their jerseys issued.
With 90 players on the offseason roster and 13 numbers out of circulation, the Steelers have routinely used duplicate numbers during the preseason.