Why multiple Commanders players changed jersey numbers during 2022 offseason

Why multiple Commanders players changed jersey numbers originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ASHBURN, Va. — From Jalen Ramsey to Dalvin Cook to Odell Beckham Jr. to D.J. Moore to Darius Slay, several of the NFL’s biggest stars have changed jersey numbers since the league eased up on its restrictions prior to the 2021 season.

For the Washington Commanders, though, only returner DeAndre Carter and then-rookie receiver Dyami Brown took advantage of the lighter restrictions in 2021, which allow non-linemen to wear single-digits. Terry McLaurin continued to rock No. 17, Chase Young stuck with No. 99 and so on.

The same can’t be said in 2022. While McLaurin and Young have kept their jersey numbers, five different Commanders’ holdovers have changed the digit(s) on their uniforms from 2021 to 2022. Each player has a different reason why.

Kicker Joey Slye was the first Commander to announce his new jersey number, as the 26-year-old posted on Instagram in mid-April he’d be switching from No. 3 to No. 6.

Slye, who was signed midseason last year, said part of the reason he wanted to move on from No. 3 was because of the player that wore that number in Washington for seven years prior.

“For me, a little bit of it was I didn’t feel super comfortable in No. 3 here just with how long Dustin [Hopkins] had it,” Slye told NBC Sports Washington in June.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Slye continued. “I don’t know him personally, but just the guy that I’ve met during pregame and stuff like that and the stories you hear around the league about some guys, Dustin has always been a really good dude. I did feel a little awkward in No. 3.”

Slye’s reasoning for wanting to move on from No. 3 is plenty fair, but why No. 6?

Well, Slye’s late brother, A.J., wore No. 6 in every sport growing up. Unfortunately, A.J. tragically died of leukemia in November of 2014. After re-signing with Washington in April, Slye said he had his first real opportunity to choose his number in the NFL and wanted to honor his brother with it.

“I was always No. 7 and A.J. was No. 6,” Slye said. “I was thinking about trying to go for No. 7, but I know Joe [Theismann] wore it, and then with everything with [the late] Dwayne [Haskins] as well [happened] right around the time we were looking at [changing numbers]. So, I’d much rather wear No. 6 for my brother than No. 7 for myself.”

With No. 3 now vacant after Slye’s move to No. 6, one Washington player was quick to pounce on it. That’d be veteran cornerback William Jackson III, who wore No. 23 during his first season with the Burgundy and Gold.

“I hit coach right then [when No. 3 opened up],” Jackson III said in May. “I thought he was going to say no, actually. But after he said yeah, I got it.”

Jackson III wore No. 3 during his college years at the University of Houston, but it was long in Hopkins’ possession when he signed with the Commanders in 2021. No. 22, the number Jackson III wore the first four seasons of his NFL career in Cincinnati, was also taken at the time by safety Deshazor Everett. So Jackson III opted to sport No. 23 last fall, the same number that former Washington standout DeAngelo Hall wore.

Now back in his college number, Jackson III says he feels “way different” in No. 3. The cornerback also said that he wanted to switch it up from No. 23, in order to pay respect to Hall and the other former Washington players that have shined in that number.

“When you’re in college, you’re out there swaggin’ and having fun,” Jackson III said. “Just to go back to that number in the NFL, that’s a big deal.”

“We’ve got a new name, new everything, new helmets, new number,” he added. “I’m just ready to have fun. This is my college number, so I’m grateful to have it.”

Jackson III’s former No. 23 didn’t stay open for long, however. Running back J.D. McKissic, who spent the past two seasons wearing No. 41 in Washington, decided to claim the two-three shortly after it became available.

The No. 41 seemed to fit McKissic well, but the running back claims it was never a number he liked.

“I just always wanted to be 23,” McKissic said. “I was never able to get 23 because of my status in the locker room at the same time, but 23 made itself available and I took it.”

McKissic said he didn’t know No. 23 was going to be available until he saw on Twitter that Jackson III was changing his uniform to No. 3. Immediately, the veteran running back called head equipment manager Drew Hampton and said “let me get No. 23.”

Well, McKissic got his wish.

Two more players from Washington’s 2021 roster, wide receiver Cam Sims and safety Darrick Forrest, have new uniform numbers for this year. Receiver Kelvin Harmon, who briefly wore No. 84 while on the team’s practice squad last year, is back in the No. 13 he wore in 2019.

Sims, who spent the first years of his career wearing No. 89 in Washington, switched to No. 11 prior to the 2021 season. But then this past March, the Commanders traded for quarterback Carson Wentz, who wore No. 11 in college and his first five NFL seasons in Philadelphia.

Shortly after Wentz was introduced as Washington’s newest signal-caller, news broke he’d be wearing No. 11 for the Commanders. From Sims’ perspective, it sounded like a pretty easy negotiation.

“We just spoke about it and he was like, ‘Can I get it?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. You can get it,'” Sims said.

Often times in the NFL, cash payments are sent from one player to another in order to receive the jersey number of choice. Deion Sanders, Eli Manning, and even former Washington running back Clinton Portis are just a few examples of players that paid off a teammate to get their jersey number preference in the past.

When asked if Sims received any cash or gift from Wentz in order to hand over No. 11, the wideout said “nah, nah” while smiling. Sims has returned to No. 89, which remained vacant in 2021 after he had switched to No. 11.

Forrest, a fifth-round pick by the Commanders in 2021, was stuck with No. 48 during his rookie season. After wearing No. 5 at the University of Cincinnati, it’s totally reasonable to understand why Forrest didn’t like his NFL number.

“Ah, man, 48 just looked a little hefty on me,” Forrest said. “People kept asking if I was playing linebacker!”

The second-year veteran opted to change to No. 22, which had been occupied by Everett since 2015. Everett was released this past March after seven seasons with the team. 

Although Everett and Forrest shared the locker room for just one year in Washington, the two formed a strong bond. Everett was a special teams standout during his time with the Commanders, a role Forrest — who thrived on special teams in college — is hoping to earn this season. Everett’s impact on Forrest is a big reason for his decision to switch to No. 22.

“I rock with No. 22 for my dawg Shaze,” Forrest said. “Got to keep that legacy going.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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