Before Antonio Brown takes the field for the Patriots on Sunday, New England is going to have to give him a uniform number, and that one small thing could be the first test of whether or not the receiver is going to cause any drama in Foxborough.
Brown has been in the NFL since 2010 and during his nine seasons in the league, he's worn the same number every year: 84.
Brown clearly plans on wearing that number in New England, and we know that, because he posted multiple pictures on social media over the weekend that showed him wearing his new Patriots jersey.
The problem for Brown is that his favorite number is already taken by Patriots tight end Ben Watson.
The easiest way for the Patriots to fix this problem would be to have Watson switch numbers, something the tight end would probably be on board with for two reasons. For one, he doesn't seem too attached to 84 and we know that because he wore No. 82 for the past eight seasons. The other reason Watson might be willing to switch is because he might be able to make a little bit of extra cash by selling the number to Brown.
Although having Watson give up the number would be the easiest solution, it might not be that easy and that's because the NFL has some strict rules when it comes to changing your jersey number. According to the NFL rulebook, players are not allowed to switch numbers once the regular season has started.
"For competitive reasons, no player may change his uniform number once the regular season begins," the rulebook states, via Pro Football Talk.
This rule might explain why Brown is still listed with no number on the Patriots official roster.
If Brown threw a fit over his helmet, you can only imagine how upset he'll be if he didn't get his number. Of course, the Patriots might not have to deal with that potential drama, and that's because the NFL rulebook does have one exception to its rule for switching numbers.
"Special exceptions to this rule may be considered by the NFL Football Operations department depending on the circumstances (e.g., player traded to another team)," the rule states.
The example used in the rulebook is a player being traded, and of course, Brown wasn't traded, he was added as a free agent. Basically, this means that if a number switch is going to happen, Brown is going to have to plead his case to the NFL Football Operations department.
The one reason why Brown might be able to win his argument is because both he and Watson still haven't played in a regular season game yet. Brown wasn't on a roster in Week 1 and Watson.
That suspension could actually throw a wrench into things and that's because the Patriots aren't actually allowed to contact Watson while he's out, according to NFL rules. During his suspension, Watson also isn't allowed to participate in any football-related activities with his teammates OR have discussions with them about football. What's not clear is whether or not talking about a jersey number would constitute talking about football, which would violate that rule.
If talking about a jersey number would violate the suspension rule, then Brown might be out of luck.
Whatever's going to happen with Brown's number, it's going to happen soon. The Patriots will hold their first practice of Week 2 on Wednesday, and Brown will presumably be wearing a number once he takes the field.
This situation basically has three possible outcomes:
- Brown gets his number and we never talk about this again.
- Brown doesn't get his number, but doesn't pout, because he knows he's on a short leash in New England and he doesn't want Bill Belchick's bad side less than 24 hours after officially signing his contract.
- Brown doesn't get his number and then starts drama.
If Brown goes that third route, it will be highly interesting to see how New England responds. Of course, we probably shouldn't expect things to get that far, because there's a good chance the Patriots were aware of this potential situation when Brown signed, and they likely already have a plan in mind for how this is going to play out, because the Patriots always have a plan for everything.