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Bengals Asking NFL to Change Alternate Helmet Use Rules

That didn’t take long.

For the 2022 season, the NFL began permitting teams to use an alternate helmet, but that usage came with a caveat: the alternate helmet could only be paired with a team’s third (alternate) jersey, the color rush (CR) uniform, or a “classic” (throwback) uniform. Because those uniforms are limited to a total of three wearings per season (in any combination), that has kept the wearing of alternate helmets to a maximum of three times per season.

That meant teams who introduced alternate helmets which might otherwise (and perhaps more appropriately) be paired with their primary home or road uniforms, could not do so. In most cases, this isn’t much of a problem, especially for clubs who introduced an alternate helmet specifically for use with a throwback uniform.

Last year saw multiple teams introduce alternate helmets, with several of them (Giants, Falcons, Patriots, Cowboys) to be worn specifically with classic (throwback uniforms). But there were also several teams who debuted alternates which were not specifically for throwbacks, but (seemingly) because they could, and which would thus need to be worn with alternate/CR uniforms. This list included the Bengals (“white tiger”), Bears (orange), Saints (black), Panthers (black), Texans (red), Cardinals (black), Jets (black) and Eagles (black).

This year saw another large batch of alternate helmets, some to be worn specifically with throwbacks (Buccaneers, Seahawks, Eagles, Titans, Browns) but others were not. Teams who are wearing alternate lids this season include the Lions (blue), Broncos (white), and Colts (black).

Again, in most of those non-throwback helmets, their color was meant to pair with alternate/CR uniforms (Bears, Panthers, Texans, Cardinals) but in other cases, the alternate helmet didn’t seem to make sense. Pairing those alternate helmets with an alternate/CR uniform produced an odd look, to say the least, seemingly begging to be worn with one of the teams’ primary uniforms.

Specifically, the Saints black helmet, which for now must be paired with the all white CR, seems much more appropriately worn with the team’s black jerseys. The black hat isn’t terrible with the CR (which itself is more of a harkback), but still looks a bit out of place.

Likewise, two of the three alternate helmets introduced this season seem visually out-of-place when paired with the teams’ CR uniforms.

Because of the current alternate helmet usage rules, the Lions will have to wear their new blue helmet with their all-gray uniform, and the Broncos must wear their new white helmet with their all-orange CR.

Now, let’s circle back to the Bengals, who, according to this article, have petitioned the NFL to allow them to wear their white helmets with their primary white uniform, rather than their CR uniform. The visual effect wouldn’t be much different — the CR uniform and the primary white uniform are quite similar.

Still. Here’s the petition they sent to the NFL, according to the article linked above, which the Bengals posted on Instagram:

Seems innocuous, right? But if the NFL were to approve this, would this open the door to all the other clubs with alternates to wear them with their primary uniforms? Could we (in theory) see an orange Bears helmet over their midnight blue jersey? Or the Texans wearing their red hats atop their blue shirts? What about the Saints pairing their black helmet with black jerseys (and pants and socks)? Could the Lions wear their new blue lids with their Honolulu blue jerseys? Those don’t seem unreasonable.

But if the NFL approves this petition by the Bengals, does that open a Pandora’s box for the NFL to allow all teams to pair their alternate helmets with primary uniforms? Could we see, for example, a black Jets helmet paired with their green jersey (and/or pants)? Could the Falcons swap decals to pair their new red throwback helmet with their red jerseys? Would the Broncos wear their white helmet with an all-white set, including socks? Each of these would be a possibility if the NFL were to change their alternate helmet use rules.

I need to point out one thing here: the way the Bengals’ letter to the NFL is worded, they are seeking to “reclassify” the white uniform combo. (That would akin to the times the NFL allowed the Broncos to “reclassify” their orange alternate as the primary, as others have occasionally done over the years.) But we’re talking about their primary white uniform here — not designating one color jersey for another. Unless they’re planning to “swap” the white CR jersey with the white primary jersey, it seems like they want to dump the CR jersey entirely, but to wear the white helmet with their “regular” white jersey.

This is all speculation at this point — unless and until the NFL changes the alt helmet rule none of the above possibly uniform combinations can happen. But what if it does?

When we first learned the NFL was changing the alt helmet rules for the 2022 season, we rejoiced at the myriad throwback possibilities (most of which have or will happen), but what about the other possibilities?

The NFL has been very strict on their alternate helmet rules for several decades, viewing teams wearing one primary helmet as the key to their visual identity, even as alternates and throwbacks have begun to proliferate. Would they now consider allowing a team (for example, the Bengals) to wear their primary orange helmet with their dark uniforms, while permitting them to wear the white alternate with their primary white uniforms? I believe the last time a team wore two different helmets with different primary jerseys was the 1969 Eagles.

Would you be in favor or opposed to the Bengals’ petition — and taking it a step further — allowing all NFL teams to wear alternate helmets with primary uniforms? Should something like that be limited to three times per season (as it currently the rule with alternates/throwbacks)? Should, for example, the Saints be permitted to wear black helmets AND gold helmets with either of their primary uniforms? If the Bengals request is approved, should they be limited to wearing their white helmets to three times a season, but have to wear the orange helmets all other times? The possibilities are probably endless.

[UPDATE: There is one other possiblity here with the Bengals request. Similar to how the Panthers were able to seemingly “skirt” the “primary” jersey prohibition by pairing their black helmets with their black “CR” uniform — while still designating their black jersey as their primary — it’s possible what the Bengals are seeking is to wear their white helmets with their “primary” white jersey three times per season, while keeping the orange helmets for use with that same white jersey for all other wearings. Still, this seems at the very least a way of getting the NFL to allow the use of alternate helmets with primary jerseys.]

Comments (58)

    I prefer teams having a solid identity. Limit the use of alternate helmets but allow them to be worn with different uniforms.

    I prefer teams having a solid identity. Limit the use of alternate helmets but allow them to be worn with different uniforms.

    If I’m the Bengals, I create a second white jersey. Orange numbers, orange shoulder stripes, something. Make that the primary away, the current becomes an alt, boom. problem solved

    Although, yes I understand the 5 year waiting period and all. Just saying

    As long as a team can wear their alternate helmet a maximum of three times a season, they should be able to wear it with any combo. And NFL teams should only have one alternate helmet per season. I would not want to see an NFL franchise be like an NCAA team with three or more helmets. You can also expand the rule to have a maximum of five uniforms combinations per season (no including socks in the combos). The teams have to declare all uni combos 45 days before their first preseason game.

    As a kid I always thought it would be cool if some NFL teams had separate Home and Road helmets. Some MLB teams have different hats, NHL teams all wear different colored helmets on the road, it just made sense.
    It seems that “Alternate uniforms” are always trying to be edgy and cool, but most teams keep their Full Time uniforms clean. I have hope that Home vs. Road helmets would still end up looking good.

    The Oregon-ization of NFL uniforms is almost complete.

    I say, before this gets completely out of control, the NFL should limit “alternate” helmets to throwback uniforms and require that non-throwback alternate uniforms be worn with the primary helmet. In other words, no more alternate helmets for alternate helmets’ sake (or Uni Watch shorthand, AHFAHS), like the Lions’ and Jets’.

    Or, get rid of the uniform-combo rules and restrictions entirely and just let the teams mix-and-match to their hearts’ content. The more these teams experiment with “alternate” gear, the less sense these restrictions make.

    What about a team like the Panthers? Prior to the league allowing alternate helmets they only had one shell in their history. Would you be OK with an alternate, non-throwback, helmet in such a case?

    Uniform rules certainly have their place, but rules that are this granular are the stupidest of the stupid. Who cares which helmet goes with which jersey? As long as the color scheme is, well, uniform – so for instance you don’t have the Eagles wearing a helmet with kelly green and a jersey with their current shade of green – it doesn’t matter! Plus athletes are superstitious. You think for a second that these players haven’t noticed their win-loss records wearing certain combinations? What if they want to wear an alternate helmet because they’r undefeated, but they’ve already used their 3 games up? If I were a coach, I would allow the team to vote on the uniform combo every week OR I would reward performance by naming a player of the game, and letting that player choose the next game’s combo.

    That letter is clearly not what as actually sent to the NFL — NFL teams aren’t sending undated, generically addressed letters to “whom it may concern” at the NFL and “beseeching” a random “you” to let them wear white helmets. It’s pretty clearly something put together in their marketing department for an Instagram photo, so parsing the wording used isn’t going to give much insight into the team’s thinking.

    I don’t want the NFL to go full college/oregon, but to me the primary purpose of uniforms is to distinguish the players on each team. With that in mind, it would make sense to allow alternate helmets for teams that have similar color schemes. When I was a kid, and I would watch the Cowboys play the Lions, I always thought it looked like an intersquad scrimmage, and would welcome the road team playing in alternate helmets to make it easier to distinguish the teams – also I think the Cowboys road uniforms would look better with the white alternate helmet and pants. Just make a rule saying the helmet logo has to stay the same or be historical, and have some fun with it.

    Piggybacking off that – considering the matchup each week is something they should do! We’ve already seen input on this site and elsewhere that it would be great, for instance, to see the Eagles’ kelly greens make an appearance against a divisional opponent because it would look phenomenal.

    I say mix it up and let the teams run wild if they choose. Ultimately, merch sales and fan input will rule and we’ll see a flattening of the curve – so to speak – with how many combos we see. I’m OK with experimentation. Remember those Ravens’ gold pants? I LOVED that. The mere shock value was incredible to me and I loved that they took that risk. But ultimately, smarter heads prevailed overall and we don’t see them anymore (although I wouldn’t mind seeing those every now and then).

    Let the teams wear a alternate helmet a maximum of three times a season with any uniform combo.

    Problem solved.

    I absolutely love the Bengals regular helmet – and absolutely hate the zebra alt.
    That it exists at all is disappointing, that they wear it at all is horrible, and that they want to (potentially?) wear it more often is disgusting.

    It’s amazing how someone I like and respect so much is so clearly wrong so often ;).

    You trying to replace Vilk and the brother-from-another-mother with whom I disagree all the time?

    When he’s right, he’s right… and in this case he’s really right.

    There’s no replacing those 2!
    The Bengals really should simply concentrate efforts on fixing the Nemo stripes on the white pants and knock off this alt nonsense.
    To your point/dig, sometimes even I wonder whether or not I truly Get It (read on)…but not this time.
    Instead of the white tiger motif I’d much rather see a black helmet with orange stripes and go mono-black, right down to the socks (which should always be orange).
    PS-my favorite combo of theirs is orange/black/black/orange. YMMV

    Never liked that lid, but I could tolerate its’ return if it was the ‘80 version with the black facemask.

    And now I have to side with Phil.

    While I like that look, if you throw back to the awesome BENGALS helmet you gotta go with the gray facemask.

    Agree. Not a fan of the albino tiger. How about the Bengals switch their white shell to the B logo? Problem solved.

    If the shell is available could teams change the decal/stripes and wear it more than just 3 games? i.e. NE uses white helmet but switches Pat Patriot design to navy & red to go with their standard home away sets? or Bucks use the white shell with the pirate flag logo to wear white/red/white? I’m sure there are other examples where this would work nicely too.

    The “white tiger” idea seemed like such a great idea, but somehow the execution has rendered it bland and boring.

    I get limiting the alternate helmet to 3 games. I don’t want NFL teams turning into the Oregon Ducks. But they should be able to wear the alternate helmet with any of their uniforms.

    The problem with the current rules, is that it favors teams with throwback uniforms that use the same color shell as their primary uniform. With the one shell Rule, it was what it was.

    But now, teams like the Lions could have three helmets (regular, blue, and a theoretical Barry sanders era) while teams like the Bucs could really only have two.

    They could always put the current logo on a white helmet. The Cowboys did that last year by putting the current star on the white helmet.

    Sort of. The Bucs could have a white alternate with say, the pirate ship secondary and call it a pretty unique alternate. More problematic for the Eagles or Seahawks who’s shells aren’t a neutral color.

    That would require them to dump the mono-pewter CR/alt.

    Which would be perfectly fine with me.

    My guess is the Bengals want to introduce a BENGALS throwback and an orange alternate and need find a home for the white helmet.

    I actually think the striping on the white broncos helmet pairs, much better with their alternate uniform. I just wish they could wear white pants.
    I wish that the lions could wear their blue helmet with their crate jersey and plain white pants and their white jersey with the plain gray pants on the road.

    Not a fan of the white over orange/orange/orange. The blue’s a *little* better. But the problem with that uniform isn’t the helmet…it’s the orange jersey/pants/socks. I’d love it if they could wear white pants with the white hat/orange jersey. And keep the blue hat, add a white jersey, with the orange pants for a road kit.

    I think I’m finally reaching a limit on the “uniform” permutation revolution. The Webster’s definition of the word “uniform” must surely include something about consistency. I kinda miss the days when “Dallas at Atlanta” was a far-off, regional spectacle, that would probably remain permanently un-viewable. I could assuredly picture it though, Harmon Wages, resplendent in red, with his trademark #5 mostly obscured by mud, being pursued by white, blue and silver-clad Cowboys, forever chasing into the dimly-lit dusk…

    It’s worth noting that the design of the Bengal’s “Color Rush” jersey is held over from the 2004-2020 set. The use of this jersey instead of the standard white always felt like a workaround to me, as it’s very weird to have one jersey from the previous set stick around in a new, otherwise uniformly designed collection.

    Regarding other team’s alternate helmets, the Lion’s blue and Saint’s black definitely feel like their paired with the wrong jerseys, and I would like to see that fixed.

    I think Carolina may have actually broken the alt-helmet-with-alt-jersey rule last year by wearing their black helmet with their primary black jerseys and black pants. This was probably always the intended combo for the helmet, but interestingly later in the season they wore black jerseys over black pants again, but used the silver helmet. Maybe they were reminded of the rule.

    Also, regarding alternate jersey use limits, I feel their are a few teams that really have two primary jerseys, and they should be allowed to use them without limits. These teams include Carolina (Black and Blue), Jacksonville (Teal and Black), Baltimore (Purple and Black), Cincinnati (Black and Orange) and Tennessee (Light Blue and Dark Blue).

    Finally, I think you should be allowed to wear alternates potentially four or five times a season, as long as at least one or two of them are on the road. I want to encourage throwback-vs-throwback games and I think the limited number of alternate games allowed is discouraging teams from doing this, as they want to save the alternates for the home fans. It’s rather silly that the Patriots and Dolphins are both wearing throwbacks against each other, but not in the same game.

    Re: Carolina Panthers all-black

    When they unveiled their uniform schedule last year in July they wrote:

    “Typically, league rules allow a team to wear alternate jerseys three times in a season, but the Panthers received an exception to wear black as one of the alternate uniforms for the blackout game against Atlanta.”


    This feels like it’s the result of the white color rush alt finally being five years old, and finally being allowed to be scrapped. The new white over white look would clearly look better with the white helmet than the old alt did, and the league would be crazy not to approve this. Especially considering the fact that many other teams already use their primaries as their color rush, ie Chiefs, et al.

    This is what we warned about. The slippery slope. Teams with home and road helmets not as cool as it sounds. We endured this actually happening with many teams in the CFL in the 2010s. It does happen anymore because the CFL went to and still have the one-shell rule.

    What happens? A team that has a longstanding tradition compromises their visual identity – EVERY ROAD GAME. Maybe cool to see it as a one-off but it will be for more games than that. Spent a few seasons watching the following teams wear road specific helmets and looking wrong most all road games. Edmonton in forest green helmets, Stampeders with black helmets, Roughriders with white helmets. As a fan I was so happy when they quit doing it.

    I think the Bengals asking to do this has implications farther down the road. IF they are permitted to wear their white helmets with the current white jersey/uniform combo (for “white out games”)…… Then what is the need for the current CR white jersey? Now, delete that jersey out of the rotation. Guess what that could mean??????? Either a throwback to the (Browns knockoff as some called them) uniforms, or a possibility of the Boomer Esiason uniforms in place of the CR unis……. Thoughts?

    “Could we see, for example, a black Jets helmet paired with their green jersey (and/or pants)?”

    It’s sad when I read this my immediate thought was “No…because they never wear the green jersey anymore.”

    I’ll leave this question to people with time to do the math – if the alt-helmet usage restrictions were removed, how many teams could field 17 unique combos (i.e. a different look for every game), mixing and matching the current jerseys, pants, and helmets at their disposal?

    I’m sick to death of this crap. Pick a uniform, home and away, and wear the damn things. I guess the money made from all these clown show alternates must be too significant to change, now that the cat is out of the bag.

    I don’t get this. There aren’t enough games to mix & match with reckless abandon. Some restraint needs to be exercised before this devolves into the NBA. I can’t turn on an NBA game and know who’s playing; between multiple courts and uniforms that stray from a team’s color palette, I can’t be bothered.
    The NFL makes millions on jerseys, but I don’t imagine they make nearly as much on helmet sales. Think about the number of people you see wearing jerseys in public, even not on gamedays, relative to the number of people wearing helmets.

    Teams should be allowed to do whatever they want with helmet/uni combos as long as it doesn’t challenge the uniform sales.
    I am all for creative combos as long as they look good. And if they don’t, we will debate them here

    Maybe the Bengals want to pair the white helmet with their regular away unis instead of having to wear their color rush. The CR was introduced just prior to the Bengals uni overhaul. The two are very similar, with the CR being a slight downgrade imo. If they were allowed to do this it would actually be less cluttered and less chaotic with less combinations.

    I do however understand everyones uneasiness and how something like this could snowball out of control. I can already see the Falcons in a red throwback helmet, gradient black jersey, with limited time fight against autism purple pants.

    The one she’ll rule only went into effect 10 years ago, and it didn’t even last a full ten years. There are some seriously hideous unis in the NFL that have outlasted the one shell rule. There are unis in the nfl (eagles midnight green) that people have been even more eager to revert to the previous set than they’ve been to lift the one shell rule, yet the midnight greens persist, while the one shell rule is no longer. And yet the league acts like they are trying to protect some Yankees-level tradition here. Just let the teams wear the helmet with whatever. Why force the bengals to wear their white shell with an outdated uni, when the rule was established in the first place for player safety, not uniformity.

    Thank God (or Satan, whatever) for the Raiders. Let everyone else play fantasy Oregon Ducks dress-up.

    am i the only one who would love to see the bengals all-orange combo (helmet, jersey, pants and socks) and the panthers in an all-black combo?

    One helmet and decide what you wear with that helmet as you like and as long as it does not clash with the other team that you are playing. A football helmet, certainly in the NFL, is part of the team logo set. One does not change the team logo every game. Stick to your helmet and do what you like underneath.

    The rule seems to be paired with a jersey, not a uniform. But the panthers its tied to uniform. So, if they pair black jersey with black pants, it is alternate uni, so they can wear black helmet. So, lions could do the same thing this year if blue jerseys are paired with blue pants (not primary Blue over silver). Maybe if saints actually designate black over gold as primary, then when they wear all black, they could pair with black helmet. Another example for the jets, green over white primary uniform, but if they wear green over black, they could wear black helmets, because it is an alternate uniform.

    But still limit the combos to 3 (maybe 4 times) a year.

    Now this doesn’t really help the bengals, because their primary away is white over white already. But it opened idea up for the concept of others

    A lot of interesting comments! I surprised myself by being interested in seeing their white helmets more often when I tend to lean towards NFL teams sticking to a standard set and not deviating often, but I guess good design is good design and I would rather see that than several other choices…. I guess I have to be against this move so I don’t have to watch bad examples of this rule going into effect.

    I have been trying to buy a color rush Bengals jersey since mid last season. The Bengals or anybody else hasn’t restocked them! I have been predicting a new alt to go with the white helme, but now think they want to dump the color rush, wear white helmet with primary 3 times and wear orange alts 3 times. That’s what I hope, anyway.

    Typing on this site, in my phone browser, makes my grammer look even worse than it is. Ha

    As a Browns fan, the Broncos are one of three teams that I’m legally bound to hate for all eternity, but having them play a white-out game with white from head-to-toe in the middle of a Rocky Mountain blizzard would be a cool site it see (if you could see it).

    I’ve never seen a comment section with more “get off my lawn” vibes than from this website. Sheesh. Y’all sound like the old guy at an office who says, “we are going to keep doing it in this [antiquated] way because it’s always been that way”.

    Times change. So do uniforms/jerseys. I’m sorry if these new uniforms don’t reflect the 1970s. But it’s 2023 now. Some of us sports fans want jerseys to reflect the times because we’re not living in the past :)

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