Football Zebras analysis
This year created a gold rush for low-numbered jerseys as the league changed its rules to open up large spans of desirable numbers to multiple positions. In the process, some Seahawks players grabbed numbers that were apparently out of the range for their position.
While compiling the list of opening day numbers that were only possible under the new rules for our partner site Quirky Research, I noticed defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Benson Mayowa claimed the numbers 8 and 10. All defensive linemen are only allowed to have numbers in the ranges of 50-79 and 90-99. Linebackers and defensive backs may select numbers from 1 to 49, with linebackers also permitted in the 50-59 and 90-99 range.
This apparently was not addressed by the league office when the Seahawks announced all their number changes in June.
There is no amount of offseason roster sleight of hand that can allow Dunlap or Mayowa to have the low numbers. For instance, the Seahawks cannot roster them as linebackers and then change back them to defensive ends. The rulebook prohibits this practice of veterans grabbing numbers out of position:
A change in jersey numeral is not required if the change is from an ineligible position to another ineligible position, or from an eligible position to another eligible position, provided that the player has participated at least one season at his position prior to the change.
Dunlap, who was acquired by the Seahawks in a midseason trade with the Bengals, was listed on the pressbox roster (a two-sided “flipcard”) as a defensive end, although one had him as a “DE/LB” and two others were “DE/LEO.” The leo position is a flexible position that is a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, typically a player who has more speed than a traditional defensive end. It is essentially a pass rusher lined up on the side of the line not opposed by the offense’s tight end. While there aren’t strict formation rules on the defense, a leo is still positioned as a defensive end. He played for the Seahawks for 8 games last season, with 3 listed as a split designation. Is this enough to qualify as one season at a new position?
Mayowa was listed as a defensive end in the roster portion of the flipcard, but was shown as the backup leo on the depth chart. Again, officially, Mayowa was listed as a defensive end, and Dunlap’s primary position has always been listed as a defensive end.
Since leo is not specifically addressed, it’s not up to the team to make a determination. Rule 5-1-2 states, “any request to wear a numeral for a special position not specified above must be made by the Commissioner.”
According to the team rosters on NFL.com, the only other player in the entire league who does not comply with the numbering is Jets defensive end Bryce Huff, who wears number 47. Huff was a linebacker last year and did not change his number in the offseason, which he is permitted to do under the rule cited above.
We requested information from the league how the Seahawks were allowed to assign numbers outside of the ranges specified in the rules, and who is responsible for enforcement and permitting exceptions. We have not yet received a response.