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Head Games: NFL Allows Teams to Use Three Helmet Colors

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Big news out of the NFL late yesterday afternoon, as the league announced that it is revising its uniform policy to allow teams to have a third helmet color. According to a memo made public yesterday, the third helmet option was made available to teams redesigning their uniforms for 2024 (that would be the Broncos, Jets, Lions, and Texans), and will be available to all remaining teams in 2025.

Here’s the full memo:

As recently as three years ago, teams were restricted to just one helmet color, which was the league’s official policy from 2013 through 2021. Teams were permitted to add a second shell color in 2022. Thirteen clubs did so that year, and another nine did so in 2023.

According to Gridiron Uniform Database historian Bill Schaefer, there’s one previous instance of an NFL team having three helmet colors in a single season: the 1954 Lions, who had silver, gold, and blue.

I didn’t hear any rumors or hints about the possibility of a third helmet until about an hour before the announcement (and that’s when I was interviewing a team official about an unrelated matter and he happened to drop a cryptic comment), so they did a good job of keeping the news under wraps.

That said, back in February I spoke with a source — again, about an unrelated matter — who mentioned that he’d heard from an NFL player that the league would be relaxing its uniform rules in 2024 and that “it will be more like the NBA, where you don’t know what you’re gonna get every week.” My source didn’t have any specifics beyond that. I asked Jonathan Wright, the NFL’s Senior Director for Uniforms and On-Field Products, if he could confirm, deny, or otherwise comment. Here’s what he told me:

Wow, that would be something, but it does not sound like something we would entertain.

I can tell you that when we do contemplate any sort of change, it is an arduous process and the look and feel of our Clubs on the field is of upmost importance and focus.

There’s nothing specific that I can point to at this time, but I would be very surprised if there was any expansion of alternate uniform wearing occasions or mixing of the alternate/primary uniform closet rules for the upcoming season.

So I didn’t write anything about it and chalked it up to a bum steer from the player who talked to my source. In retrospect, however, it appears that the addition of the third helmet was probably what he was referring to.

Some notes about what this could mean going forward:

  • I haven’t heard anything about the Broncos, Jets, Lions, or Texans going with three helmets for their upcoming unveilings. But we did hear earlier this year that the Texans’ four uniforms “will be completely different from each other and not simply a repeat in various colors.” So if they’re all completely different, having three different helmet colors — presumably navy, red, and white — would certainly help in that regard.
  • Similarly, if the Jets wanted to have a green “Sack Exchange” helmet, a BFBS alternate, and a white Namath-era throwback, they’d now be able to do so.
  • Ditto for the Broncos if they wanted to go with white, royal, and navy.
  • And there’s the ugly possibility of the Lions going with silver, blue, and black.
  • When the Eagles added their Kelly green throwback uniform last season, they had to drop their black alternate helmet in order to make room for the Kelly lid. Under the new rule, they could restore the black design next season and go with midnight green, Kelly green, and black.
  • As noted in the memo above, a team’s third helmet cannot be worn with the team’s primary uniform, which is the same rule that also applies to second helmets. So we won’t see a lot of wholesale mixing and matching like we see in the NCAA.
  • That said, this move has “Be careful what you wish for” written all over it. It may work out positively for a few teams (I wouldn’t mind seeing the Bengals add a reverse-field version of their primary helmet, so they’d have orange, white, and black), but I feel like the big picture is almost guaranteed to be a net negative — not just because few if any NFL teams need a third helmet color, but also because this will just open the door to more ridiculous alternate uniform designs.
  • Speaking of which: In my recent interview with former Nike art director Tom Andrich (which, if you missed it, is absolutely essential reading — best Uni Watch interview ever!), I said, “[T]he NBA had City Edition, and now MLB has City Connect, and the NFL hasn’t come up with that yet, but I feel like it’s probably coming — if not by name, then in spirit.” An additional helmet color would certainly be convenient for a league that wanted to go in that direction, no?

What do you think we’ll see in terms of third helmets?



Purp Walk Reminder

In case you missed it on Monday, the 2024 Purp Walk T-shirt is out, and it’s a doozy. But if you want to yours in time for Purp Walk next month, you need to pre-order by tomorrow. Full details here.



What Is That Thing Tattooed on Paul’s Right Arm?

My beloved Brannock Device hit the big time two nights ago, when it was featured in a clue on Jeopardy! The category was “The Measure of a Man,” and one contestant — the episode’s eventual winner — did get it right.

(Thanks to all who shared.)



Too Good for the Ticker

Yesterday I tweeted this photo comparison of the flag backdrops being used by the two U.S. Senate candidates in Arizona, showing the markedly different sizes of the stars. I was going to put it in today’s Ticker, but our own Jerry Wolper elevated it to “TGftT” status by quipping, “We can tell which one is using the new Nike template.” Indeed.



Can of the Day

The connection between spiciness and the Devil is fairly common, but this is a particularly good execution. Well done!

• • • • •

Thanks for all the kind words yesterday about my mom’s 100th birthday. Meant a lot, really.

My Hawaii travelogue will be published later today. — Paul

Comments (67)

    This is definitely a “be careful what you wish for” and it will end up being more bad than good.
    I am not really sure I can think of an instance this would be good. It would assume a standard helmet, and different color alternate and throwback helmets. There isn’t a team that comes to mind that where this makes sense, except maybe the Titans; navy standard, white alternate/throwback, and powder blue Oilers throwback. But in that case it is just because the Titans standard helmet is the wrong color to begin with.
    I think this will just lead to lots of unnecessary BFBS helmets and/or teams doing unnecessary white helmets for mono white designs that are captioned with some nonsense like “icy”.

    The MLB Players’ Weekend look was prescient: we are a few years away from a team in BFBS head-to-toe facing an icy white “stormtrooper” squad in WFWS, team colors be damned.

    Wasn’t the 1-shell rule predicated under player safety and a higher risk of concussions if players wore more than 1 helmet, or they weren’t broken in, or some such statement. Guess that’s no longer true? Why didn’t the league ever try wrapping graphics over a single shell? They do it for cars all the time.
    This is a bad step on what feels like a slippery slope. Recently, the NFL has done the best job of the major sports in protecting their uniforms. No ad patches on game gear, no closets full of mix & match like the NBA and now MLB. (Not blaming the league itself for unfortunate trends like monochrome madness, visible base layers, gradient numbers or the loss of stripes socks or socks in general, that is a larger problem with the aesthetics of the game as driven by young athletes.) You could turn on an NFL game and know fairly easily who was playing (unless a team like the Eagles, Jets or Lions went BFBS for a week) and where. One game a week leaves little need for more than 2 or 3 designs.

    Same reason a lot of jobsites no longer allow workers to put stickers on hard hats.

    Visible base layers is a problem? So players just have to suck it up when it’s literally below freezing?

    Irrespective of the remperature, when everything from the upper abdomen to the waist hem is exposed around the torso, and runners can get pulled down by the base layer… yeah, it looks really sloppy.

    I’ll disagree about a Bengals reverse helmet option. To me, black stripes on orange is what bengal tigers look like. I suppose art doesn’t always have to imitate nature, but to me it just looks wrong in every way.

    Or a purple raven, a white and green Eagle, a Cardinal with a yellow beak, a white, blue, and orange horse…
    I get what you mean but it’s not like it’s unprecedented.

    During daytime sunlight, a raven can look purple or blueish. Hence the color choice and why often for night games Baltimore will opt to wear black.

    …black stripes on orange is what bengal tigers look like.

    Which is why their current pants stripes (orange on white) look so fugazy.

    ““[T]he NBA had City Edition, and now MLB has City Connect, and the NFL hasn’t come up with that yet, but I feel like it’s probably coming — if not by name, then in spirit.” An additional helmet color would certainly be convenient for a league that wanted to go in that direction, no?”

    It’s DEFINITELY coming in some form. MiLB has found success in their uniform programs, the NBA has MANY different unis for God knows how many iterations of uniform packages, and the MLB is still unveiling their first set of CC unis. Color Rush got mixed reviews from the fans, so I feel the NFL will try to revamp that series, or even go with a similar program to City Connect, but with teams required to still keep the main logo incorporated in the design.

    I think what’s holding this back is that football units leave very little room for silliness. Even looking at colleges, most teams are typically only getting really weird with helmets and the unis are just experimenting with color combos. I’d be interested to see someone mock up NFL “city unis” based on successful NBA or MLB city unis from the same city, and then try some original designs and share their thoughts on the process and degree of difficulty.

    Let’s stop calling them uniforms, because there’s very little uniformity going on now. “Costumes” works so much better in 2024

    I just used Mexene chili powder in my dinner last night. Sadly, no cartoon devil on their current packaging.

    Yknow what? I’m really not that worried. The NFL has proven repeatedly to be BY FAR the most conservative when it comes to uniforms (your recent Substack piece about Color Rush proves that). It doesn’t look like the “3 uses” rule for alternate jerseys has been repealed, so we won’t see NBA levels of inconsistency.

    And as a 20-something, I think there are some cool alternates this makes possible. I’m sure our older Uni-Watchers disagree, but I think an Action Green Seahawks helmet would be a cool addition.

    as someone who was in 8th grade when the first trial Color Rush games happened, I thought they were sick. would be very interested to see if they try to revive the program but with matching helmets.

    If the Lions do go with a third helmet option, white would be a much better option than black.

    The Nike knockoff joke about the flags is really spot on. Tiny stars on a flag is the type of thing that would sink a campaign back in the day, remember Howard Dean?

    I remember Howard Dean. I was there that night in Iowa. Damn shame. He got screwed and so did we.

    I wonder if the Eagles get grandfathered into bringing back the black helmets this year since we’ve already seen them. Eagles, seem like best case scenario for three helmets, but unfortunately we’ll probably see City Helmets and Uniforms in a few years.

    I knew there had to be a Ducks joke in the conversation but was too lazy to come up with it. Well done.

    For those of us hoping the Lions new uniforms will be a return to the classic Sanders-era style, this news all but confirms they’re going to be another disaster Nike redesign.

    Yep I’m expecting mono unis with the only detail being Lions, Detroit or motor city on the chest. Something shitty like that.

    “NIKE-ERA DISASTER!!!” You do realize the teams and the NFL create the uniforms, right? Blaming Nike for everything is lazy and uninformed.

    Teams look the way they want to look. Nike just makes what the teams and league decide to do.

    This is an oversimplification.

    It’s true that teams and leagues have the ultimate say-so. But it’s also true, as former Nike art director Tom Andrich recently told me, that Nike likes push clients out of their comfort zones.

    Interesting that the NFL is backpedalling and allowing up to 3 different helmets per team. It is an extra dimension to all uniform sets and could lead to some nice results (Washington with a burgundy, a gold and a white helmet, for instance). Personally I want to see a white or a red helmet for the white and grey Giants uniform to be used every once in a while. But we must be careful what we wish for, indeed: too many BFBS helmets and the horrible orange Bears helmet come to mind.

    My predictions for shell colors/logos
    AFC East
    Bills: White standing buffalo, black standing buffalo, red 90’s charging buffalo
    Dolphins: White swimming dolphin, white 70’s jumping dolphin, aqua Brandiose glaring dolphin
    Patriots: Silver Elvis, navy blue Elvis, white Pat Patriot
    Jets: Green Sack Exchange, black Sack Exchange, white Namath

    AFC North
    Ravens: Black raven head, white raven head, purple with gold B
    Bengals: Orange stripes, white stripes, orange leaping tiger
    Browns: Orange, white, brown glaring bulldog
    Steelers: Black hypocycloids, yellow hypocycloids, black with gold uniform numbers

    AFC South
    Texans: God only knows at this point
    Colts: White horseshoe, black horseshoe, blue horseshoe
    Jags: Black jag head, gold jag spots, silver leaping jaguar (but not enough to be considered copyright infringement)
    Titans: White flaming thumbtack, navy flaming thumbtack, screw Houston throwback

    AFC West
    Broncos: New bronco, old bronco, Elway bronco
    Chiefs: Red arrowhead, white arrowhead, yellow arrowhead
    Raiders: Silver raider, black raider, white raider
    Chargers: White bolts, Seau bolts, Fouts bolts

    NFC East
    Cowboys: Silver star, white throwback star, mismatched navy star
    Giants; Navy ny, navy LT GIANTS, white “G”
    Eagles: Kelly green wings, dark green wings, black wings
    Comms: Maroon W, black W, gold W

    NFC North
    Bears: Navy wishbone C, white wishbone C, orange wishbone C
    Lions: Silver leaping lion, black prowling lion, Honolulu blue glaring lion
    Packers: Gold G, Green G, White G
    Vikings: Purple horns, black horns, light purple horns

    NFC South
    Falcons: Black falcon, black throwback falcon, red throwback falcon
    Panthers: Silver panther, black panther, blue panther
    Saints: Gold fleur, black fleur, white fleur
    Bucs: Pewter flag, white Bucco, pewter Bucco

    NFC West
    Cardinals: White cardinal, black cardinal, cardinal Arizona star
    Rams: Blue shells with yellow, gold, and white horns
    Niners: Gold SF (we have seen how well the 49er fanbase reacts to new helmets)
    Seahawks: Navy seahawk, silver seahawk, neon green seahawk

    I LOLed at “Brandiose glaring dolphin”. Totally nailed it! And maybe we can bring back the disco NY for the Giants? (ducks and runs)

    I’ve always thought the Cardinals would look great with a red helmet. Here’s hoping. Maybe the Patriots would look good with a Navy Blue shell.

    I just wish they would go white helmets with red jerseys over white just once. Rather have that than more bs

    College Football always struck me as an odd choice for the crucible of the alternate uniform explosion. They only play 12 games a season! Having it start in a sport with way more chances to showcase ALL uniform options, like baseball or basketball, always seemed like the more obvious choice. The NFL’s hesitancy to join the fray, likewise always struck me as level-headed. An NFL team’s helmet is such a bigger part of their identity than, say, an MLB team’s hat (usually). The notion of an NFL team wearing their primary helmet 14 games a year, their 2nd helmet twice, and their 3rd helmet once (which is going to be the general ratio, don’t kid yourself) makes the 3rd helmet feel objectively pointless.

    What surprises me, I am guessing there is very little “retail” in helmet sales. So if this isn’t retail-driven is it more for aesthetics or to push teams into creating that 3rd or 4th uniform?

    What we have seen with CC & City Edition unis is teams going away from their own colours to completely different colourways. e.g. Phillies in blue.
    I’m OK with this rule if its used by the likes of Washington/Arizona to try and enhance their drab looks by matching helmets into existing schemes – or the likes of the Denver who have a history of wearing Brown, Orange, Blue, Navy blue and White lids and can use for throwbacks or new looks within their existing branding.
    But if its used to open up completely different images for teams – e.g. a green and white Denver uni to match the Rockies’ CC unis, then please, just put a stop to the whole thing now!

    Oh, please, please, please let the Jets have a white throwback helmet/uni to go with their new set; if they do that I won’t care about the BFBS.

    Well, I will, but not as much.

    Well, …..

    I didn’t read anything about a limit of games for the alternate helmets? I wonder if a team like the Cardinals could wear their white helmet with their white jersey, red helmet with their red jersey, and black helmet with their black jersey. And I would guess that they’d have the mono look with matching pants and socks.

    Alternate/Throwback rules haven’t changed. They can only be worn a maximum of 3 times a year. So in 20 games (counting pre-season) any 2nd or 3rd alternate helmet will only be worn 3 times at the most.

    So can they wear the 2nd & 3rd helmets 3 times each, or 3 times combined? I won’t be surprised if they relax this. So maybe the Cardinals wear the black helmet & black alternate 3 times, but the red helmet with their red uniform another 3 times or more?

    The slippery slope gets more slippery. Really dreading the possibility of City Connect-like uniforms in the NFL. Please don’t!

    Of interest to note, despite the NFL going to two and now three helmet shells in past few seasons, to date the CFL is still one-shell. Training camps and exhibition season starts next month and no news on multiple shells at this point for the Canadian Football League.

    So when we’re all said and done every NFL team will either have a BFBS helmet (or for navy teams like the Bears, a White FWS helmet)?

    I’m not a big NFL guy, but I am NOT looking forward to the City Connect-ification of the League.

    I found this line interesting:
    “If either alternate helmet is paired with a classic uniform, the helmet designs and colors must be historically compatible.”

    Does that mean that the Saints will have to stop wearing their black alternate helmet with their fauxbacks? (I hope so) or is it not classified as a “classic” uniform?

    Oh great……. And just like the NBA, half the time you can’t tell who is playing each other unless you look at the score bug. I mean, last night I turned on a game and took me forever to figure out who the Mavericks were playing. This was due to a screwed up alternate uniform and court design for the Heat.

    “[T]he NBA had City Edition, and now MLB has City Connect, and the NFL hasn’t come up with that yet, but I feel like it’s probably coming — if not by name, then in spirit.”

    Uhhhh, isn’t that what Color Rush already was?

    One thing that’s interesting about this is the apparent trend of having multiple separate uniforms, the way the Texans are apparently going to have. Color rush was the start of this — i.e. not just flipped alternate colors — and now everybody likes these all-white or all-black looks.

    I think it’s a good bet that teams will be able to mix and match combos at some point down the line. Wonder how these two trends will mesh — perhaps mixing and matching could be a good thing in the sense that it encourages teams to at least have flipped color alternates and maintain a chromatic/design identity.

    I keep thinking Paul is stepping away from UniWatch at the right time. The NFL potentially turning into the Oregon Ducks uni-wise, baseball’s mismatched greys and all the city connect crap may have caused a nervous twitch in him if he had to keep writing about what I’m afraid might be nightmarish.

    I keep thinking Paul is stepping away from UniWatch at the right time.

    I shudder every time I see this, because I think. why did I let Phil talk me into doing weekends?
    I really don’t want to be Old Man Yelling At Clouds, but if I become that, start submitting your resumes/applications to Phil.

    As I’m sure Phil himself would say, weekends are different. You don’t have cover as much breaking news and carve out your own space that makes sense to you. You’ll do great, Jim!

    Trying to see the upside here, but I get the sense that in the end it will just lead to more head to toe mono…

    Which means I’m guessing that over 50% of the alternate/third shells will be white. A lot of teams have adopted a shoulders to cleats all white look recently and often (Lions, Saints, Falcons), or occasionally (Vikings, Jets, Jags, Cowboys). I wouldn’t be surpised to see a provision to allow this with road unis.

    Better question is – how many teams even want a third, and to go through the hassle of an entirely new alternate? There are a strong bunch who haven’t even used the second color this time around (Steelers, Chiefs, Dolphins, Vikes, Rams, more).

    Kind of agree that most will be conservative and the teams that are still playing regularly with their identities will do just that.

    Hot take. Im not a fan of white helmets. They can look like marshmallows and or they are off white and do not match the tone of the uni.

    Not so hot of a take. I’m not a fan either. A white helmet just looks too plain, like a basic off the rack helmet. White helmets are like the crummy house balls at your local bowling alley.

    Chargers Twitter was very excited last night at the prospects of navy and powder helmet colorways. Though I wonder if the “no alts over primary unis” rule will keep the powder blue from happening.

    “it will be more like the NBA, where you don’t know what you’re gonna get every week.”

    This is worse than the shitty MLB redesign.

    Mini-helmet sales automatically increase by 50%. That’s a good-enough, fool-proof formula for the NFE.

    Cool. Every team without a black helmet will now have one

    The douchebaggery the Falcons cashed in on has finally prevailed.

    Love that can of Mexene! That’s always been our family go-to when making chili. They used to have it in larger cans but it seems lately I can only get it in 3oz cans. Hmmm…just checked their website and they also have it in 38oz family-size!

    First, let’s not all be afraid of change, particularly when it’s addition, rather than subtraction or replacement. Every team doesn’t need to look like they were outfitted by the Eastbay Catalogue. Second, many teams could actually carry a second or third helmet well. Pats with silver, navy, and white works fine. Saints with gold and black (though I’m not crazy about their black helmet design currently). Cowboys with silver and white. Eagles could have silver, baby blue, and green. Jets should have a green and white option. Bengals should have an orange and white option. Jags can handle good and black, panthers should have silver and black. dolphins could add an aqua helmet with a script logo. Ravens could add a gold helmet. And the niners should troll this rule every year by doing their “one day logo” on a gold chrome helmet and make a big promotional to-do about it and then announce that they will be worn on the week they have a bye.

    In this day and age, with so many distractions and it being so easy to get lost in the din of day-to-day life, I really feel like less is more in marketing.

    It’s very easy to be flipping through the channels now — for the ever-shrinking number of us who still have channels to flip through — see a college game, and, if both teams are wearing alternates, not immediately know what two teams are playing.

    I think there’s something to be said in the modern sense for the Yankees’ approach: Have a very distinct, unmistakable, singular look and always have that. That way, you cut through the din and everyone knows who you are without having to think about it. That way, it’s not just a baseball game that’s on — it’s a Yankees game that’s on.

    At some point, I feel like there are diminishing returns with all of this. Part of what made the NFL the nation’s fascination was how much of a ritual it was: You knew the NFC games were going to be on CBS and the AFC games on NBC at noon and 3, with a Sunday nighter on ESPN at 7 and the Monday nighter on ABC. You could predict exactly what both teams were going to wear and could probably accurately visualize the game based on the radio call alone. Now, you don’t know what night or time of the week teams are playing, what they’re going to look like, where they’re going to be playing and what channel they’re on. It’s overwhelming and too much in a time when we’re already overwhelmed by phone notifications and largely having to be online 24/7.

    I guess it makes some folks money, but again, at some point, diminishing returns.

    This will not stop until every team is either wearing all white or all black uniforms. The players really want to look like the chess pieces that they are to their coaches. And Nike and the NFL will happily comply.

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