The death of Nos. 80 and 81 for star receivers

The death of Nos. 80 and 81 for star receivers

Some numbers in sports need no context for their significance to be understood: No. 99. No. 42. No. 23.

In football, it’s harder for one guy to truly have a number forever, just because there are so many players on the rosters and certain numbers are restricted to certain positions. Yet for years, the numbers 80 and 81 held a generic significance: Those guys were the star receivers. 

For decades, No. 80 was long worn by top receivers: guys such as Steve Largent, Cris Carter, Irving Fryar, James Lofton, Isaac Bruce and, of course, Jerry Rice. Its older brother, No. 81, found itself on a number of greats as well: Tim Brown, Torry Holt, Art Monk and, in the best season of his career, Randy Moss. 

Only four teams have retired No. 80 -- the Vikings (Carter), the Rams (Bruce), the 49ers (Rice) and the Seahawks (Largent) -- while the Saints retired No. 81 for Doug Atkins, a defensive end. 

So some receivers in the league don’t have the option to wear No. 80 or 81 these days. Strangely enough though, they probably wouldn’t take it if they could. 

Right now, it’s slim pickings for star power with 80 and 81. Only one No. 80 leads his team in receiving yards (Washington's Jamison Crowder), only one No. 81 holds that distinction (Philadelphia's Jordan Matthews). Compare that to 2003, when a combined seven 80s and 81s topped their team’s stats page. 

As the kids would say, No. 80 been over. No. 81, too. 

What exactly happened? The first assumption is to blame 2004, and where there’s smoke, there’s fire. 

The 2004 season was the first in which the league opened up Nos. 10-19 to be worn by receivers in addition to numbers in the 80s. Previously, a player could only wear a number between 10 and 19 under special circumstances. Keyshawn Johnson, for example, used a crowded training camp roster to wear No. 19, with the Jets then receiving permission from the league for him to continue wearing it. 

Yet 2004 was the year that opened the floodgates. If players wanted to go lower, they could, and that they did. 

In the 2004 draft, seven receivers were drafted in the first round. The first three taken -- Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams and (wow, come to think of it) Reggie Williams (wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered) -- took No. 11. Twenty-ninth overall pick Michael Jenkins took No. 12. 

Jump back a year to the 2003 draft, before the lower numbers were in play. The first two receivers taken -- Charles Rogers and Andre Johnson -- took No. 80. Although Michael Clayton would choose the number upon being drafted in 2004, none of the 21 receivers drafted in the first round since him have elected to wear No. 80.

It’s essentially the same with 81. Rashaun Woods picked No. 81 after being a late first-rounder in 2004, but only one the 19 first-round receivers since him -- the great Calvin Johnson -- took No. 81. And that’s not because of availability. 

Right now, six receivers wear No. 80, a number that is now predominantly worn by tight ends (nine). No. 81 is still fighting the good fight, with 10 receivers wearing it, although their numbers took a hit this week with the retirement of Andre Johnson, who after years of wearing No. 80 in Houston had worn No. 81 the past two seasons for the Colts and then Titans. In total, 17 players wear No. 81. 

So, these numbers are up for grabs when flashy players enter the league, yet they choose not to take them. And, as time goes on, they’re shying away from the 80s altogether. 

Expanding the parameters an extra round, 45 of 61 receivers drafted in the first two rounds since 2009 have taken a number between 10 and 19. Brian Robiskie is the only one to take No. 80. Golden Tate and Jordan Matthews took 81. 

Undrafted players, more than any one round, most represent the numbers 80 (six of 15) and 81 (six of 17). Two very good ones come to mind in Victor Cruz (No. 80 for the Giants) and Danny Amendola (No. 80 for the Patriots), but Amendola previously wore No. 16 for the Rams. 

But really, Cruz, Matthews, Amendola and the aging Anquan Boldin are the biggest names wearing these numbers, and none of them are the level of star that for years was synonymous with Nos. 80 and 81. Guys come in the league and they’re not thinking about being Jerry Rice; they’re thinking about being Larry Fitzgerald. 

Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

File Photo

Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

There's one gigantic hole to fill on the Patriots offensive line.

Replacing Nate Solder is no easy task and it's not exactly clear how the Pats will yet.

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport was first to report the Patriots would like to bring back Waddle or Fleming.

It now appears that one of the former backup tackle is taking a serious look elsewhere, according to Ian Rapoport. 

It's not the best offensive line free agency market this season, so the Pats may prefer to bring back a guy they are familar with.

If Fleming is off the board, Waddle still remains as an option for New England.



How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

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How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

How highly do the Patriots value their mid-round draft picks? We'll find out as the run on NFL free agents continues this week. 

If Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio plan to make any signings from outside the organization, they'll have to factor into that decision what they will be giving up. Money and cap space matter . . . sure. But there is draft capital at stake.  

The Patriots are currently projected to land two third-round compensatory picks in 2019 after losing both Malcolm Butler and Nate Solder in free agency. There's real value there, and the decision-makers at One Patriot Place may be reluctant to give that up. 

Recent Patriots third-round picks include Derek Rivers, Tony Garcia, Joe Thuney, Jacoby Brissett, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan. 


Before we get into how the Patriots might lose those third-round comp picks if they remain active in free-agency, it's worth noting how comp picks are assigned. 

The compensatory-pick formula the league uses has never been published, but we know the basics. It's based on free agents lost and free agents acquired in a given year by a particular team. The level of those players is taken into consideration -- based on salary, playing time and other factors -- and then picks are issued to teams who have lost more (or better) free agents than they acquired. Only free agents whose contracts have expired (not players who've been released) qualify for the compensatory-pick formula.'s Nick Korte is the best in the business when it comes to predicting how many picks teams will land based on their free-agent losses and acquisitions, and he has the Patriots down for two third-rounders in 2019 and nothing else. 

That may sound surprising given the Patriots lost Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola in addition to Butler and Solder, but that's the way the formula broke, according to Korte. The Adrian Clayborn signing (given a sixth-round value by OTC) cancelled out the Amendola loss (sixth-round value). The Matt Tobin signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Lewis loss (sixth-round value). And the Jeremy Hill signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Johnson Bademosi loss (sixth-round value). 

Why do Tobin and Hill cancel out Amendola and Lewis, despite being lower-value moves? Here's how OTC describes the process. (Free agents who qualify for the comp-pick formula are known as Compensatory Free Agents or CFAs.)

1. A CFA gained by a team cancels out the highest-valued available CFA lost that has the same round valuation of the CFA gained.

2. If there is no available CFA lost in the same round as the CFA gained, the CFA gained will instead cancel out the highest-available CFA lost with a lower round value.

3. A CFA gained will only cancel out a CFA lost with a higher draft order if there are no other CFAs lost available to cancel out. 

That final point is key. An example? The Seahawks recently signed CFA Jaron Brown, a seventh-round value. The only Seahawks "CFAs lost" available to cancel out the move were Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, both fourth-round values. Even though there's a three-round difference between Brown and Richardson, per Korte's projections, those moves still will cancel each other out. 

With that in mind, the Patriots may want to tread lightly when it comes to signing free agents who will qualify toward the comp-pick formula. They could lose out on the third-rounders they've received for Solder and Butler even if they sign a lower-value free agent.

Players like Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro or Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman would count toward the comp-pick formula. Would their value to the team be such that losing a 2019 third-round pick wouldn't matter to the Patriots? Or would their comp-pick impact hurt their chances of being picked up in New England? My guess would be the latter. 

The good news for the Patriots is that re-signing their own players -- like offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and/or Cam Fleming -- doesn't impact the comp-pick setup. Neither does signing players who've been released, meaning the Patriots could theoretically make a splash by signing Ndamukong Suh or Eric Ebron and they'd retain their comp picks.

Given the Patriots made just four draft picks last year, and since comp picks can be traded now (that rule was changed last year), it would come as little surprise if retaining those picks weighed heavily on Belichick and Caserio's decisions as they move through the remainder of the offseason.