FRISCO, Texas – Jaylon Smith is getting back to his roots.
It has long been suspected that, if the NFL relaxed its rules around jersey numbers, Smith mightopt to wear his old number – No. 9.
With the league officially passing that measure, allowing linebackers to wear any number between 1-59, that's exactly what's going to happen. Smith has officially changed into his new, single-digit number for the 2021 season.
Third-year safety Donovan Wilson, who had been wearing No. 37 to this point in his career, is also switching into his college number, No. 6.
For those not aware, No. 9 has been special to Smith for quite some time. He wore the number in high school and made it famous at Notre Dame as a college star. When he was drafted back in 2016, he even noted that the digits of his old number – No. 54 – added up to equal nine.
Clearly, the number is significant to Smith – though its significance in Cowboys' history has also made this a hotly-debated topic. Of course, No. 9 famously belonged to Tony Romo, who wore it throughout his run as one of the best quarterbacks in franchise history and who retired the year after Smith was drafted.
The Cowboys do not formally retire uniform numbers, but there are certain players that have reached an elevated status. Iconic numbers in franchise history, such as Bob Lily' No. 74, Roger Staubach's No. 12, Troy Aikman's No. 8 and Emmitt Smith's No. 22 are not assigned.
No one has worn No. 9 since Romo's retirement, and there are plenty of people would prefer it to stay that way. Smith reached out to Romo to discuss wearing his number, according to ESPN.com.
For his part, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said during the NFL draft that those are club decisions.
"Sometimes it's a good enough deal for them to want to change and sometimes it isn't," Jones said. "We usually, as you know, let our players work it out between themselves. If anybody wants No. 9, we'll have to represent Romo on this side of the table."
To be fair to Smith, there's plenty of precedent for this. The famous No. 88 has been passed down through several generations of receiver, from Drew Pearson to Michael Irvin to Dez Bryant and now to CeeDee Lamb. Smith's old No. 54 is also an important part of Cowboys history, as it was worn by legendary defenders Chuck Howley and Randy White.
The move will cost Smith some money. Players who switch numbers heading into this season are responsible for paying off all the store inventory of their old number. That figure likely isn't very big for a young player like Wilson, but is likely quite pricey for an established star like Smith.
Obviously, that wasn't a deterrent for Smith, who will open 2021 as the Cowboys' newest No. 9.