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Jersey number restrictions could soon change

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There's a chance your favorite Bears player will be sporting a different look on the field this upcoming season.

Next month NFL owners are expected to vote on a proposal that would expand jersey number options for certain positions. The new rule, which was proposed by the Kansas City Chiefs, would allow running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, linebackers and defensive backs to wear new numbers, including single digits.

Here are the numbers that each position is currently permitted to wear with the proposed additional number ranges in parentheses:

Running backs: 20-49 (1-19, 80-89)
Wide receivers: 10-19, 80-89 (1-9, 20-49)
Tight ends: 40-49, 80-89 (1-39)
Linebackers: 40-49, 50-59, 90-99 (1-39)
Defensive backs: 20-49 (1-19)

The following positions would be unaffected by the new rule:

Quarterbacks: 1-19
Offensive linemen: 50-79
Defensive linemen: 50-79, 90-99
Punters and kickers: 1-19

The proposal needs approval from 24 of the 32 NFL owners to be adopted. The difficulty of assigning numbers by position increased last year when practice squads expanded from 10 to 16 players. It's especially challenging for the Bears, whose 14 retired numbers are the most of any NFL team.

Only time will tell if the proposal is approved and which Bears players will ultimately change numbers. But it's interesting to note that:

• Receivers Anthony Miller (Memphis) and Darnell Mooney (Tulane) and linebacker Roquan Smith (Georgia) all wore No. 3 in college. They could be tempted to switch to a single digit, but it won't be No. 3 because that number is retired by the Bears in honor of Hall of Fame fullback Bronko Nagurski.

• Receiver Allen Robinson II wore No. 8 at Penn State and could switch to that number if the proposal is approved. No Bears player has worn No. 8 since quarterback Mike Glennon in 2017.

• There are only four single-digit numbers currently available with the Bears: Nos. 1, 4, 6 and 8. Nos. 5 and 7 have been retired to honor Hall of Famers George McAfee and George Halas, respectively, while Nos. 2 and 9 belong to kicker Cairo Santos and quarterback Nick Foles, respectively.

Safety Eddie Jackson, who has worn No. 39 since joining the Bears in 2017, would seemingly be a candidate for No. 4, the number he wore at Alabama.

Interestingly, No. 7 was worn by two Bears Hall of Famers: Halas (1920-29) and defensive end Ed Sprinkle, who is scheduled to be inducted posthumously this year.

The last Bears to wear Nos. 1, 4 and 6 were, respectively, kicker Cody Parkey in 2018, quarterback Chase Daniel in 2018-19 and quarterback Mark Sanchez in 2017.

• The new rule would allow linebacker Danny Trevathan to switch from No. 59—the number he's worn in all nine of his NFL seasons with the Broncos (2012-15) and Bears (2016-20)—to No. 22, the number he wore at Kentucky. Of course, Trevathan would probably have to "purchase" the number from Bears cornerback Kindle Vildor, a 2020 fifth-round pick from Georgia Southern who wore No. 22 last year as a rookie.

A rigid numbering system didn't exist in the NFL until 1973, which explains why Bears Hall of Fame quarterback Sid Luckman was able to wear No. 42 in the 1940s, Hall of Fame running back Red Grange was permitted to don No. 77 in the 1920s and '30s, etc.

A handful of tweaks have been made since 1973, the most noteworthy of which occurred in 2004 when receivers were allowed to wear numbers in the 10-19 range. Last season the Bears' top three receivers all wore numbers in that range: Robinson (12), Mooney (11) and Miller (17).

Senior writer Larry Mayer ranks his 10 favorite Bears players who changed jersey numbers prior to the 2021 season.

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