NEW YORK -- As quick as NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue handed David Carr his new jersey, Houston Texans fans had their hands on a replica of it Saturday.
Without the suspense of wondering whom the Texans planned to select with their first pick in the 2002 NFL draft, retailers got an early jump on jersey sales for the expansion team's rookie. The availability was made possible when Carr and the Texans reached agreement on a seven-year, $46.25 million contract earlier in the week. As soon as it became official that Carr had been selected by Houston, the jerseys were made available to fans.
That Carr already had signed the NFL Players Association's group licensing agreement and selected his number -- No. 8, the same number he wore at Fresno State -- helped pave the way for pre-draft production. Punter Chad Stanley originally was to wear No. 8 with the Texans, but he recently changed to No. 12.
"It makes a big difference to get this jersey out on Saturday since it's the biggest shopping day of the week," said David Baxter, chief operating officer of Reebok's OnField licensing division. Reebok is the NFL's official apparel supplier. "Because (No.1 pick) Michael Vick was traded last year, stores had to wait until Tuesday before they could start selling" his Atlanta Falcons jersey.
That didn't hurt demand for Vick's jerseys. Atlanta retailers reportedly ordered 30,000 Vick jerseys in the month following the draft. Coincidentally, both Vick and Carr are represented by Octagon agents Michael Sullivan and Jeff Sperbeck.
Similar to the restrictions on the league's licensed championship gear, which cannot be distributed until the outcome of the game is decided, Reebok instructed retailers to safeguard Carr's replica jerseys until his selection by the Texans became official.
Academy Sports & Outdoors, the Texans' official store, expects to sell thousands of Carr jerseys over the next week at its 20 Houston locations and during Saturday's official draft party that was expected to attract 30,000 fans to the Reliant Astrodome, Academy spokesperson Casey Ramm said.
Carr's jerseys figure to sell well because fans of expansion teams stock up on new apparel. Although replica jerseys of eight Texans selected during the league's expansion draft on Feb. 18 have been floating around for weeks, many in Houston appear to be holding off purchasing Tony Boselli and Aaron Glenn jerseys in favor of waiting for the jersey of the team's first pick in the regular draft.
"There's so much hype about Carr," Ramm said. "He's the No. 1 pick, he's supposed to be the future, so fans have to get his jersey."
Given the buying habits of fans of previous expansion teams, Carr figures to be among the top 20 best selling jerseys in the NFL this upcoming season, NFL and NFLPA officials predict.
That's no small accomplishment. In the past three drafts, 36 quarterbacks have been selected and only two of them ranked in the top 20 in league jerseys sales, said NFL spokesman Steve Alic. Vick finished seventh on the NFLShop.com rankings last year, and quarterback Tim Couch, the first pick of the expansion Cleveland Browns, finished No. 19 in 1999.
Reebok officials said jersey orders for Carr are expected to be "just under" orders placed for Vick.
"He won't have the same national appeal as Michael did," Baxter said. "Vick played at a bigger school and played for a national championship."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com