To make the move to No. 9, Smith had to buy out the current inventory of No. 54 jerseys and T-shirts, which follows NFL rules. Had he said now that he would change his number in 2022, it would not have cost him any money.
"It's about value over cost," Smith said. "Definitely a blessing being able to play for the Dallas Cowboys, so working out the terms the right way. Really, I'm just thankful to be in the No. 9 and have an opportunity to turn this thing around this year. We're all here focused. We're locked in, and we know what we need to accomplish."
New number this season for @thejaylonsmith 👀— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) May 25, 2021
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Owner and general manager Jerry Jones gave Smith the blessing to make the change. A source said Smith reached out to Tony Romo, who wore the number from 2003 to 2016, about the switch as well.
"First and foremost, it's a blessing and an honor to be able to carry on the 9 legacy," Smith said "Tony Romo did an amazing job of just being elite and putting together great success for the Cowboys franchise. As you know, new players coming in, always getting an opportunity to sometimes carry on legacy. That's the opportunity that the Jones family granted me with wearing No. 9, so it's definitely a blessing.
"It's been a part of my life. I've been wearing No. 9 since I was 9 years old, through pee wee, middle school, high school, college, All-American games, you name it. No. 9 is a part of me. It's really just a blessing to be able to continue the legacy."
The NFL changed its number policy this offseason, allowing linebackers to wear Nos. 1-59 and 90-99. Smith wore No. 9 at Notre Dame and chose No. 54 with the Cowboys because the numbers added up to nine. Fellow linebacker Micah Parsons, the Cowboys' first-round pick, is wearing No. 11, his number at Penn State.
Romo is the franchise leader in passing yards and touchdown passes and is especially close to the Jones family. The Cowboys do not officially retire jerseys, but nobody has worn Bob Lilly's No. 74, Roger Staubach's No. 12, Troy Aikman's No. 8 or Emmitt Smith's No. 22 since the Hall of Famers last wore them. No. 88 is a legendary number too, with Hall of Famers Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin having worn it, as well as Dez Bryant, the franchise leader in touchdown catches. Last year's first-round pick, CeeDee Lamb, currently carries the No. 88 tradition.
The No. 54 has a deep history with the Cowboys, too. Hall of Fame defensive lineman Randy White wore the number from 1975 to 1988 and Ring of Honor linebacker Chuck Howley wore it from 1961 to 1973.
"We are very aware of what happens relative to the personalities and identification with a number. It's not frivolous," Jones said during the draft. "It'll be considered, but certainly will have to be considered in light of some of the other things that you do and not the least of which is all the things that are out here that have that identification with that personality with that number. We're pretty sensitive about No. 12 around here, and we're pretty sensitive about No. 8, 22. Those are decisions that we'll make, and we'll make as a club. I will say, this is a club decision."