The Patriots previously have retired seven numbers. It looks like 87 won’t be the eighth.
It’s possible that the Pats have had second thoughts. Ross made the team, but he has now been given No. 8. That same number also has been issued to linebacker Ja’Whuan Bentley. (The recent expansion of the permissible numbers for various positions was supposed to prevent that.)
Still, the fact that No. 87 made an appearance in any context raises questions as to whether the Patriots will eventually set aside the number for good. They surely will do it for quarterback Tom Brady. If they don’t do it for Gronkowski, it likely will be that none of the other players from the greatest two-decade run in NFL history get the same honor.
Of the seven retired numbers (20 for Gino Cappelletti, 40 for Mike Haynes, 57 for Steve Nelson, 73 for John Hannah, 78 for Bruce Armstrong, 79 for Jim Lee Hunt, and 89 for Bob Dee), only one player — Armstrong — overlapped with the first year of the Bill Belichick era, 2000. It’s hard to imagine that key players other than Brady from the past 20 years won’t be similarly honored.
But that’s the way the wind has been blowing. Richard Seymour’s 93, Ty Law’s 24, Tedy Bruschi’s 54, Troy Brown’s 80, Adam Vinatieri’s 4, and Rodney Harrison’s 37 currently are in circulation.
This leads back to the broader question of whether it even makes sense to retire jerseys. There’s a point where teams have to stop retiring jerseys, which will mean that players far more deserving of the honor than those who have gotten it won’t. At that point, it may be time to find another way to remember great players of the past without setting aside the number they wore indefinitely into the future.