FRISCO, Texas – From the age of 9, Jaylon Smith had always worn 9 on the football field.
"No. 9 is a part of me," he said.
So when the NFL recently relaxed its rules changes and allowed linebackers to wear single-digit jersey numbers, Smith jumped at the opportunity to switch from No. 54 – even though it came with a cost.
NFL players who change numbers must pay off the remaining retail inventory of their old jerseys. For Smith, it was worth the undisclosed price.
"It's about value over cost," he said. "It's definitely a blessing being able to play for the Dallas Cowboys, working out the terms the right way. I'm just thankful to be in the No. 9 and have the opportunity to this thing around this year. We're all focused, we're locked in, and we know what we need to accomplish."
No. 9 happens to be a significant number in Cowboys history. Tony Romo, the club's all-time leading passer, wore 9 his entire 14-year career, and it hasn't been worn by a Cowboys player since he left after the 2016 season.
Smith said he hasn't yet connected with Romo about the jersey switch but wants to build on that tradition.
"It's a blessing and an honor to carry on the 9 legacy," he said. "Tony Romo did an amazing job of just being elite and put together great success for a Cowboys franchise. As you know, new players coming in are always getting an opportunity to sometimes carry on legacy. And that's an opportunity that the Jones family granted me with wearing No. 9."
2021 is a new look for Smith, and for the entire linebacker room. The Cowboys signed veteran Keanu Neal in free agency, drafted former Penn State star Micah Parsons with the 12th overall pick and selected former LSU starter Jabril Cox in the fourth round. With Sean Lee retiring, the 25-year-old Smith and Leighton Vander Esch (25) are suddenly the longest-tenured linebackers on the roster.
It's a major influx of talent, and it'll be interesting to see how the snaps are distributed when the season starts. But Smith says he's looking forward to working with the new group, and he actually became friends with Parsons well before the draft.
"He's a great guy and also a dominant player," Smith said. "Just loving all our new additions. This linebacker room is strong in its core.
"When you talk about Cowboys ownership, it's about them doing their jobs on adding talent to make the team better. For me, I'm blessed to have this opportunity. … It's an amazing linebacker room and we're going to grind. We're going to work and we're going to work and do what we've got to do to have a great season, great defense."
Smith was a limited participant in Tuesday's OTA practice as he works his way back from offseason wrist surgery.