Michael Pierce will give Everson Griffen No. 97, with an important caveat

When defensive end Everson Griffen returned to the Vikings, defensive tackle Michael Pierce made a magnanimous gesture. He’ll give Griffen No. 97. That’s the number Griffen wore throughout his time in Minnesota.

The offer comes with an important caveat. Griffen must pay whatever the league will charge Pierce for the unsold inventory of jerseys with his name over No. 97.

“However many jerseys they printed out with my last name on them, you have to buy them back and then you can change the number,” Pierce said, via the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “So we’ve got [equipment manager] Dennis [Ryan] and our equipment staff working on it. . . . He doesn’t owe me any money. He’s done everything for this organization. . . . I think after final cuts [on Tuesday] and everything I’ll be able to pick another number if he chooses to pay for it.”

It’s unclear what it would cost Pierce (or Griffen) to make the change. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook opted not to change from No. 33 to No. 4 because of the seven-figure price tag associated with it. Pierce, who opted out in 2020, has never played in a single regular season game with the Vikings.

Pierce has every right to ask to be made whole, since giving up a number isn’t as simple as it used to be. The issue further underscores how unfair the current procedure is. When the team trades or cuts a player, the team owes not a penny to anyone, not to Fanatics or (more importantly) not to the fans who already bought the jersey. Why should a player who changes his number pay anyone anything?

Yes, it’s important to not have players change their numbers every week. Yes, Fanatics needs a stockpile of pre-made jerseys of the league’s most popular players. The rule nevertheless seems inconsistent and unfair. In four days, when rosters drop from 80 to 53 and an established name or two ends up being traded or released, Fanatics will write it off. Why isn’t there at least some degree of flexibility involved in cases like this?