One of my favorite overall looks in the NFL—and yes, I am biased—is definitely the Atlanta Falcons in red helmets. It’s such a clean look that the team brought back as a throwback in 2012. The Falcons have used a throwback uniform in recent years which has a similar look with a black helmet, but it’s not the same.
The NFL’s one-helmet rule came to pass in 2013, when NFL had quietly approved a recommendation by two of the league’s advisory panels — the Head, Neck, and Spine Committee and the Player Safety Advisory Panel — that limited teams from switching helmets during the season. This meant no more red helmets for the Falcons and no more alternate helmets for teams around the league.
Fast-forward to 2017, and momentum started picking up for a change to the rule. At the owners’ meetings, the Philadelphia Eagles proposed a rule change to allow teams to have an alternate helmet, which would have effectively killed the one-shell rule. The proposal was withdrawn, though, because their team owner was informed that it wouldn’t pass.
That pretty much made the debate go silent until 2020, when Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians appeared on The Dan Patrick Show and said that their throwbacks could be returning in 2021, because the league will be ditching the rule that limits players to one helmet per year. That’s huge news, right? NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy then clarified via email with Pro Football Talk that “There will be no change for the 2020 season. There are ongoing discussions for a potential change for the 2021 season, but no decisions have been made.”
Now we find ourselves in 2021. I was inspired by the Unified podcast about where the current situation on the one-helmet issue was. It seems to be more of a question of “when” not “if” in regards to when the NFL will end the one-helmet rule. However, they may not come out and make a statement, but have the news release in a different kind of way. Annually right around the NFL Draft, teams reveal their new uniforms or alternate jerseys, as the Falcons did in 2020. This year, the Cincinnati Bengals are revealing their uniforms, while the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers are revealing alternate jerseys. All three have apparently leaked online already.
I think these leaks are important for the one-helmet rule because it may be the next step in the saga of finding out how close we are to a return to alternate helmets. The Bengals will have a updated version of their white/black Color Rush jersey. I imagine they would like to pair that with a white/black helmet as the entire uniform is that same color. The biggest eyebrow raiser is the Browns having 1946 throwback uniforms. If you’re wondering why this is a big deal, it’s because the 1946 Browns had white helmets. If they want to stay true to their throwback, the NFL’s one-helmet rule would have to come to an end.
In February, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times said on Twitter that the NFL intends to address the one-helmet rule policy this offseason. At the end of the day, it’s in the NFL’s best interest to drop the rule because it has prevented them to make more money. Imagine how many jerseys they could sell if teams were allowed to return to using throwbacks.
Brett Jewkes, SVP/CCO of AMB Group is a big fan of the Falcons’ red helmets.
“Trust me, we want that red helmet too. Can all but promise that if that rule changes ... you ... will ... see ... a red helmet alternate for sure.” Jewkes said on Twitter.
As someone obsessed with the history of NFL uniforms, the period of having a one-helmet rule has been a snore and prevented us from seeing some old school matchups. If it was proven to seriously prevent head injuries, then I would be 100% on board. But it hasn’t. If it did, the NFL wouldn’t even consider changing it. Even if it was only once a year, seeing the Falcons take the field in red helmets would be a spectacle. It’s just a gut feeling, but I feel like the NFL’s one-helmet rule will be scrapped sooner than we thought.