ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Football Team will retire late safety Sean Taylor's No. 21 jersey, making him only the third player in franchise history to receive such an honor.
Taylor's jersey number will be retired during a ceremony before Sunday's home game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The team also announced Thursday that a road leading to the stadium will be renamed "Sean Taylor Road."
Washington's players also will wear a No. 21 decal on their helmets Sunday.
Taylor will join Sammy Baugh (No. 33) and Bobby Mitchell (No. 49) as the only Washington players to have their jersey numbers retired. Other numbers such as Darrell Green's No. 28, Art Monk's No. 81 and John Riggins' No. 44 have not been worn since those players retired. All three are in the Hall of Fame.
"I came into the NFL the same year as Sean Taylor and immediately his athletic ability, resilience, grit, and relentless work ethic set him apart.," Washington Football Team president Jason Wright said in a statement. "I and many others looked to him as a role model. The fact that he was tragically taken so early hurt our player community, but also our fans, coaches, and staff. We will continue to remember him and hold him up as an example of professionalism and excellence, and we will all strive to mirror his excellence in our own ways."
The jersey retirement comes amid new attention paid to the investigation into the Washington franchise after multiple emails emerged dating to when Bruce Allen was the team president, leading to Jon Gruden's resignation from the Las Vegas Raiders. Those emails were part of court documents filed in June.
The NFL Players Association has announced it will ask the league to release the 650,000 emails collected from the franchise as part of the investigation. The NFL said it did not leak any emails and that it won't reopen the investigation or release any of the emails.
Amid skepticism Thursday morning over the timing of the Taylor announcement, a team spokesperson said in a statement that the organization started planning the ceremony before the season started and wanted it to be part of the franchise's alumni weekend. Another former player, ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, said he was contacted in September about attending.
Since people are wondering Tim Hightower reached out to me on September 22nd to invite me to the @WashingtonNFL alumni weekend. In his text he told me they'd be honoring Sean and his family. Which I assumed was the reason I got the invite since I hadn't been before.— Ryan Clark (@Realrclark25) October 14, 2021
The team's statement read, in part: "We have been planning this weekend's tribute to Sean Taylor since before the start of the season in partnership with Sean Taylor's family and as part of our Alumni weekend activities. ... We apologize to fans who would have liked more notice and will continue to share with fans ways we will be celebrating Sean Taylor's legacy over the next month."
Wright also apologized to fans for how the announcement was handled. Many fans on social media felt it was meant as a distraction to current issues, from negative emails involving Allen or from a Drug Enforcement Agency investigation into trainer Ryan Vermillion.
But others disliked hearing about it only three days before the game. Wright said the franchise targeted Sunday because it coincided with their alumni weekend. Wright said they want to retire more numbers in the future.
"But we screwed up the execution and, as a result, we realize that we hurt many of our fans deeply," Wright wrote on the team's website. "And for that I and we as an organization are sorry.
"As the guy who really wanted us to start honoring players better and differently -- in line with what they paid in the blood, sweat, and tears -- I'm angry and sad that we messed up your opportunity to honor Sean in person this weekend. I feel a pit in my stomach knowing how we have let so many of you down."
Taylor was shot Nov. 27, 2007, during a burglary attempt at his Florida home and later died. According to teammates and coaches, he was in the midst of his best NFL season at the time of his death, despite being out with an injury at the time, and he was named as a second-team All-Pro in 2007.
Washington drafted Taylor with the No. 5 pick in 2004. He wore No. 36 during his rookie season, then switched to No. 21 the next year.
Taylor's combination of size and physical skills made him a unique talent in Washington's secondary, and his popularity led to a number of safeties later wearing No. 21. Washington's current safety Landon Collins, who wore No. 21 when he was with the New York Giants, said he hoped Washington would draft him because that's where Taylor had played.