Antonio Brown picks No. 17 – here’s who else donned those digits

Tom Brady #12 talks to teammate Aaron Dobson #17 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Tom Brady #12 talks to teammate Aaron Dobson #17 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Antonio Brown becomes the 16th football player to wear the No. 17 on his jersey while suiting up for the New England Patriots.

According to multiple reporters posting online video from the sidelines at Patriots practice on Thursday, it appears that newly-acquired star wide receiver Antonio Brown will wear No. 17 as he begins the New England chapter of his pro football life.

Brown had previously spent his entire NFL career wearing No. 84 – both with the Pittsburgh Steelers and (very) briefly with the Oakland Raiders – but that number was already assigned to suspended Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson. While Brown and Watson conceivably could have worked out some kind of deal or transaction for the number during the offseason, NFL rules forbid players from changing numbers once the regular season begins for competitive reasons.

Per Alex Barth of CLNS Media, New England quarterback Tom Brady is 72/127 for 933 yards and eight touchdowns all-time when throwing to Patriots players who have worn No. 17 during his two-decade-long career. Barth also shared that the jersey number has been in active circulation during only five of Brady’s previous 19 years with the Pats.

While Brown’s status for Sunday’s game remains up in the air – there’s still a chance that Roger Goodell could put him on the commissioner’s exempt list, which would remove him from active consideration – it appears likely at this point that fans will finally get their first glimpse of Brown actually playing football in 2019 when New England visits Miami. The fact that he practiced yesterday and was seen practicing again today theoretically means the team has him in their plans for the Dolphins.

Is there a storied history for the No. 17 jersey in New England?

Not exactly.

Mike Taliaferro was the first to sport the number way back in 1968 while playing quarterback in the old AFL for the Boston Patriots. He was an AFL All-Star for the Patriots in 1969 while wearing No. 17… so that could be considered a good sign, we suppose.

After Taliaferro left the team following the 1970 season (the year of the AFL/NFL merger), the jersey number was out of circulation until it was re-introduced in back-to-back years by receiver Elmo Wright in 1975 and quarterback Tom Owen in 1976.  Neither player did very much of note for the franchise, so let’s move on to the 1980s.

Oh, look. Luke Prestridge, a punter, wore it for one season in 1984. That’s cool. On to the 1990s…

A whopping four different Patriots players had the opportunity to rock No. 17 during this decade: quarterback Jeff Carlson in 1992 for one season, receiver Tony Gaiter in 1997 for one season, receiver Henry Ellard in 1998 for one season, and quarterback John Friesz for two seasons from 1999-2000.

Perhaps some New England diehards will remember Friesz as a Drew Bledsoe backup during those formative years when the franchise was transitioning from the old Foxboro Stadium to modern-day Gillette Stadium, and from old head coach Pete Carroll to new/current head coach Bill Belichick. For everyone else, it’s on to the new millennium.

Just two players got to wear No. 17 during the opening decade of the Patriots dynasty: receiver Dedric Ward in 2003 (he got cut before the regular season began), and receiver Chad Jackson from 2006-2007. Jackson is well-known in New England as a second-round bust, and is cited frequently as an example in the “Bill Belichick can’t draft good wide receivers” argument.

As long as we’re on that subject, let’s throw in a few other high-priced receivers that didn’t pan out in New England who also wore No. 17: third-round pick Taylor Price from 2010-2011, fourth-round pick Greg Salas in 2012, and second-round pick Aaron Dobson from 2013-2016. Alright, technically Salas was drafted by the Rams in 2011, but he’s still a good example.

The two most recent examples to don No. 17 in Patriots history are receivers Bernard Reedy in 2017 and Riley McCarron in 2018. As you might expect, neither one of them did much of anything in New England, and both are currently free agents.

So here’s the final rundown of players to share Antonio Brown’s new digits, both by decade and by position:

1960s = 1

1970s = 2

1980s = 1

1990s = 4

2000s = 2

2010s = 5

QBs = 4

WRs = 10

P = 1

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What’s the lesson learned here? It’s quite simple actually. If Antonio Brown is truly seeking a fresh start in New England as well as the opportunity to create a unique place for himself in Patriots history, he certainly picked the perfect jersey number to do it, as there’s no significant history associated with No. 17 and this franchise.