What’s in a number? If you’re a professional athlete, the answer can range from plenty to nothing. Last year Philly.com did a cool feature where players told the story of why they chose their number. The answers ran the scope of reasons, from Vinny Curry’s touching gesture of 75 to represent the 75 players, coaches, staff and fans who died in the Marshall plane crash in 1970, to Jalen Mills’ motivational 31 to represent all the teams that passed on him, and to the “it’s what was left” of Caleb Sturgis’ 6.
With the rules of the NFL dictating what range of numbers players can wear, it’s hard to fault anyone for their reasons. There’s nothing particularly cool about 62 or 93, but Jason Kelce and Timmy Jernigan have limited options on what they can wear. Further reducing the choices are retired numbers, which for the Eagles are Donovan McNabb’s 5, Steve Van Buren’s 15, Brian Dawkins’ 20, Tom Brookshire’s 40, Pete Retzlaff’s 44, Chuck Bednarik’s 60, Al Wistert’s 70, Reggie White’s 92 and Jerome Brown’s 99, with Randall Cunningham’s 12 unofficially retired. And largely, the player makes the number cool anyway.
This season it would seem the Eagles disagree, as more than a few of them have changed jersey numbers. Nelson Agholor, LeGarrette Blount, Terrence Brooks, Corey Graham, Greg Ward, Shelton Gibson, and Marcus Johnson have all changed numbers this season. It’s been a dizzying juggling act.
Agholor started the wave by switching from 17 to 13, which was previously used by Josh Huff. Agholor wore 17 in honor of his friend Alshon Jeffery, and gave it up for his friend Alshon Jeffery. That might have been an interesting conversation.
Then there were the usual late round and undrafted rookies who are assigned a number when they join the team and then switch to a better one. Greg Ward moved from 4 to 89, a good move for a QB transitioning to WR. The release of Dorial Green-Beckham freed up Shelton Gibson to move from 80 to 18. But these are normal moves that every team experiences with rookies and new signings.
The real madness didn’t start until training camp hit. Terrence Brooks changed from 29 to 24, and did so while Ryan Mathews was on the roster, meaning both players had the same number for a while. They weren’t the only duo to share numbers, Corey Clement and Jomal Wiltz wear 30, Winston Craig and Aaron Neary wear 74, and Taylor Hart and Gabe Wright wear 77. With 24 freed up with the release of Mathews and trade of Brooks, Corey Graham, who started with 36, saw the opening and now wears 24. The vacated 36 now belongs to Dexter McDougle, who was acquired for Brooks.
That wasn’t Brooks’ only time playing jersey number musical chairs. LeGarrette Blount started with 35, which apparently is a number that nobody wants. Brooks’ move from 29 to 24 cleared the way for Blount to take 29, his jersey number in New England (he wore 27 in Tampa and Pittsburgh). 35 then went to Ronald Darby, who admits it is a bad number and is hoping for Wendell Smallwood’s 28. Watch your back Wendell.
And finally, Marcus Johnson switched from 84 to 14, which normally would indicate a player is making the team, but with Brooks having changed numbers and then being traded, for all we know Johnson could be gone and set off another chain reaction of changes. Or maybe with Brooks off the team, the madness will stop ... until rosters are cut down to 53 and between 29 and 32 numbers are freed up depending on who is cut, and then someone is claimed off waivers and wants a number someone already has.
In case you were wondering, currently available jersey numbers are 2, 25, 46, 64, 81, and 84. Unless someone else switched numbers while you were reading this.