While Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were getting treatment at the Thicket of Solitude that is the TB12 clinic (yes, we’re going heavy on the Saturday morning cartoon references today), the rest of the team got OTAs kicked off this week. And if you’re like some people and get confused watching college ball where it seems like any player can have almost any number, this year’s rookies all got assigned numbers that make zero sense, based on their positions.
Since this year’s Patriots free agency class all got, you know, normal numbers for what they’ll be doing, the rookies all wearing numbers in the 50s and 60s sticks out like an airball in pickup basketball. Is it some kind of rookie hazing thing? Is it just one more way for Bill to tell the NFL to go pound sand after the No Fun League ruined his fun with numberless jerseys? Did an intern fall asleep on the keyboard? WE NEED ANSWERS.
Fortunately, NESN’s Doug Kyed cracked the code Tuesday afternoon, and if you’ve ever played an Escape Game or a corn maze, you know the feeling of solving a puzzle and going “Really? That was the key this whole time?”
Here’s everyone’s jersey numbers, and you might be able to figure out why just by reading this in order:
50 OT Isaiah Wynn
51 RB Sony Michel
52 CB Duke Dawson
53 LB Ja’Whaun Bentley
54 LB Christian Sam
55 WR Braxton Berrios
58 QB Danny Etling
59 CB Keion Crossen
60 TE Ryan Izzo
61 WR Darren Andrews
62 DT John Atkins
63 DE Trent Harris
64 DT Frank Herron
65 CB J.C. Jackson
67 DB A.J. Moore
68 RB Ralph Webb
69 TE Shane Wimann
71 P Corey Bojorquez
There’s a couple things going on here, as Doug points out - one for the 2018 draft class, and one for this year’s undrafted free agents. Numbers 50-60 are this year’s picks in the order that they were drafted, and 56 and 57 are unofficially retired for Patriots greats Andre Tippett and Steve Nelson. Once you get to the 60s, it’s the undrafted free agents in alphabetical order by last name, just like your first day of high school. And no, Corey Bojorquez isn’t last because he’s a punter (we think, punters are people too), it’s because he signed after all the other UDFAs did.
Belichick wasn’t exactly as chatty as he is about, say, punt protection, when someone asked about the number situation on Tuesday:
“Yeah, really not too worried about all the important stuff like that — numbers and what color gloves you wear and all that,” Belichick said. “That’s not really at the top of the list right now. Trying to learn football, trying to become a team, trying to get better each day, that’s really where our focus is.”
Safety Duron Harmon’s having some fun with it, though:
“I think it’s hilarious,” Harmon said. “But you got to get to know your teammates. And I think that helps too. All the rookies in between the 50s and the 60s, it’s harder to really know who you’re talking to. So, you’ve got to know them by face, know them by name. And it just helps the team grow and build.”
Ironically, that’s the exact same reason the Patriots started using - and then got banned from using - numberless jerseys in the first place. The whole point of that was to encourage communication and getting familiar with your teammates beyond just “OK, 57’s a linebacker, got it”. According to Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith, that’s an old trick that Bill the noted history buff picked up from Steelers coach Chuck Noll when Chuck was dominating the league in the 70’s and 80’s with the Steel Curtain crew on defense.
One more thing with the numbers: while most NFL teams have already given out some rookie numbers and are printing money selling jerseys for top picks like Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley by the truckload, the only Patriots rookie jersey on NFL Shop is a #1 jersey for Sony Michel and Isaiah Wynn, which, obviously, won’t stick for either of them. So if you want to rock Michel, Wynn, Duke Dawson, or any of the rookies, you’re just going to have to hang tight at least until training camp.
In the meantime, don’t be that guy that asks Bill Belichick why Tom Brady’s not at OTAs, because it most likely will not go well for you.