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Here's why NFL players, Bills included, are paying $500 a pop to swap jerseys

Cole Beasley wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

The Buffalo Bills’ wide receiver had former teammates lining up to get his game-worn jersey after the Thanksgiving game against the Dallas Cowboys – so much so that Beasley even brought an extra one with him to AT&T Stadium.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was one of those who told Beasley before the game that he wanted to swap.

Beasley agreed, although after the Bills’ 26-15 victory, Prescott wasn’t all that thrilled about the idea.

As players exchanged handshakes after the game, a video shows Beasley telling Prescott, “Give me your jersey now!”

“He was trying not to give me his,” Beasley recalled this week. “He's a competitive guy. If he would have won, then he would have done it off the top, but he knows how crazy it is in Dallas with the media. I felt bad for making him do it. It goes beyond football. Whether fans know it or not, I don't really care. That's between me and him and it doesn't matter what people really think, but yeah, he really didn't want to give me that jersey after a loss.”

In the end, though, Beasley’s collection of game-worn jerseys from opponents grew by one. That’s a trend that shows no signs of slowing down. After every game, dozens of players can be seen on the field, swapping their signed, game-worn jerseys, complete with handwritten messages.

“I've done it more this year than I've ever done in my entire career,” Beasley said of exchanging jerseys. “It's the respect factor, and getting that respect from other people. Nobody really was asking me for my jersey before. It comes with building up a respect, really.”

For Beasley and most of the Bills who have participated in the exchanges, the trades are typically made with college teammates or childhood friends.

“It’s just cool to experience,” Beasley said. “You played however many years with those guys in college, and now you’re doing it at the highest level together. Everybody is kind of spread out and they’re doing their own thing, so it’s hard to keep in touch with those guys. To exchange jerseys, where we can see where we are and when we’re done playing we can look back at where we’ve been, it’s special.”

In 2014, the Bills' Fred Jackson and the Lions' Joique Bell exchanged jersey at the end of a preseason game in Orchard Park. (James P. McCoy/News file photo)

Earlier this season, Beasley got a jersey from Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, a player he’s watched and respected from afar. When Beasley broke into the NFL with the Cowboys in 2012, he wouldn’t have always asked for a jersey from a player like Edelman.

“There are some guys I wish I would have got in the past that I didn't,” Beasley said. Former Seahawks wide receiver “Doug Baldwin is one. I wish I would have got his a long time ago. Maybe he has one at his house that he could send me at some point.”

A lesser-known aspect of the jersey exchange is players pay for the jerseys in the form of payroll deductions. It was reported recently by Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area that the cost is at least $500 per jersey. If a player were to exchange after every game, that would be $8,000 for the season.

The Buffalo News surveyed several Bills players this week to ask about the significance of the opponent jerseys hanging inside their lockers. Here are some of their responses:

Quarterback Josh Allen

Allen typically swaps with players or former teammates from Wyoming.

“Just because being at Wyoming, we’re not really known for sending guys to the league,” he said. “Any chance two Wyoming guys are playing, I want to swap jerseys. To make sure that I have theirs. That's pretty special to me.”

Allen’s collection includes Falcons running back Brian Hill, Redskins center Chase Roullier and Eagles safety Marcus Epps – all former teammates at Wyoming. The Bills’ quarterback also swapped with Broncos nose tackle Mike Purcell, a former Wyoming player, after their teams met in Week 12.

Allen has also exchanged jerseys with Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen, whom he’s trained with in the offseason, as well as Giants running back Saquan Barkley, a fellow 2018 first-round draft pick. This weekend, Allen might exchange with Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. The two shared a house together last offseason in Southern California and are close friends.

“We'll see. I would like to,” Allen said. “We've been trying to set it up. One (previous game) ended bad for me, one ended bad for him. You don't want to be seen out there trying to smile when you're not happy about the result of the game. Whether we do it this week or next week, it's something we'll do no matter what.”

Sometimes, as is the case with Allen and Darnold this week, players set up an exchange before the game starts. Often times, though, it’s a spur-of-the-moment decision.

“With the relationships that you make off the field, whether it’s with teammates or guys you train with in the offseason, there’s a lot of mutual respect there,” Allen said. “That’s why I think my college buddies mean the most to me. We know how much we wanted it, how much we struggled throughout the college process and what it took to get here.”

Allen has only been turned down once – by Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

That might seem out of character for Fitzpatrick, but there’s more to it. The former Bills quarterback had already promised his jersey to Chris Fischetti, a longtime member of the Bills' athletic training staff.

“I understood. They’re boys. They go way back,” Allen said. “I went up to him after the game, and I've got a lot of respect for Ryan, and I go, ‘Hey, would it be weird if I asked for your jersey?’ He was like, ‘Dude, I would love to but I already promised it to Fish.’ He said he’s going to send me one. Hopefully I do get his, because I've got a lot of respect for him.”

Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds

The second-year pro has done a few exchanges since joining the Bills, but easily the most significant came a couple of weeks ago.

After the Bills’ 17-10 win over the Steelers, Edmunds exchanged jerseys with his brothers, Trey, a fullback for the Steelers, and Terrell, a Pittsburgh safety. The last time three brothers appeared in the same NFL game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was in 1927, when Joe, Cobb and Bill Rooney all played for the Duluth Eskimos.

“It's an experience I'm not going to forget,” Tremaine Edmunds said. “It's really hard to talk about, because it's something that doesn't come around too often. We all had a good time doing it. It was right after the game, so we really didn't talk too much about the game, but just having the opportunity to do it, we all enjoyed that.”

Center Mitch Morse

Morse has exchanged jerseys three times this season, with Giants linebacker Markus Golden, Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson and Browns tight end Demetrius Harris.

Wilson and Harris are former teammates with the Kansas City Chiefs, while Golden played with Morse in college at Missouri.

“It’s been a privilege over the years to do that,” Morse said. “The first few years, it starts off as guys you played with in college. The more years you play in the pros, you gain relationships with guys who are on other teams. We've all kind of moved around, and it’s great to have them as a keepsake for later on in life, to tell our kids about it. It's one of those unsung things about the NFL that's pretty cool.”

Morse said he can’t pick a favorite from his collection.

“Every one of them means something to me special,” he said. “Hopefully the ones they've received from me means something to them. Even if I had one, I'm not going to say who it is.”

“For us, it’s the memory. Guys will write notes on the numbers, and those mean a lot. They come from the heart. It's something that I've been able to do a few times throughout my career and I feel very fortunate for that.”

Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei

One of the biggest collections in the Bills’ locker room belongs to Lotulelei.

“All the guys I have in here are guys that I’ve either played with, friends from college or guys I’ve played against and just really look up to,” he said as thumbed through his collection.

Included in that group are:

  • Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles and Dolphins cornerback Eric Rowe, both former teammates in college at Utah.
  • Dolphins nose tackle John Jenkins and Patriots defensive tackle Danny Shelton, both of whom are close friends.
  • Jets linebacker Harvey Langi, who attended the same high school in Utah.
  • Eagles defensive end Daeshon Hall, a former teammate with the Carolina Panthers.

Two weeks ago, Lotulelei exchanged jerseys with Steelers defensive end Tyson Alualu.

“I've been watching Tyson for a while now,” Lotulelei said. “He's a couple years older than me. I just love the way he plays, love the way he handles himself on and off the field, so this one means a lot.”

Like all of his teammates who were interviewed, Lotulelei said he plans to one day frame all the jerseys he’s collected and display them in his man cave when he moves into his forever home.

“It’s really cool to play such a physical, demanding game and then being able to show that respect afterward,” he said. “It’s gotten more popular. The media is starting to take more notice of it, and superstars are doing it with each other, so that makes it more noticeable.”

A couple weeks ago, Bengals running back Joe Mixon tweeted about how he was too scared to ask Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his jersey after the two teams played. Brady responded on social media, saying he would send one Mixon’s way. A few days later, Mixon displayed a No. 12 Patriots jersey signed by Brady, calling it the best Christmas gift he’s ever received.

Running back Frank Gore

Like Brady, Gore is a future Hall of Famer. That makes his jersey a prized commodity among opponents. Gore has exchanged jerseys just twice this season, with Ravens running back Mark Ingram and Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.

“It’s always running backs,” Gore said of who he’ll exchange with. “It’s depending on how I’m feeling. Guys who I respect, especially young backs who I like the way they play the game.”

Some of Gore’s personal favorites are Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk.

“When I was a young guy, we didn't do it as much,” Gore said. “Depending on what game it is, what team it is, who I lose to, sometimes I really don't like to be bothered. It depends on how I played, you know what I'm saying?”

Guard Jon Feliciano

Since coming into the league with the Raiders in 2015, Feliciano has made a habit of exchanging jerseys with his college teammates at Miami or the extensive network of players who call South Florida home.

This year, however, the most meaningful jersey hanging in his locker at the Bills’ facility belongs to a former teammate in Buffalo: Wyatt Teller’s No. 77 Cleveland Browns jersey.

“I really took Wyatt under my wing when he was here. We became really good friends,” Feliciano said. “When he got traded, he was very emotional. I just grabbed him and said, ‘This is the best thing that can happen for you.’ And look at him now, he's out there starting at right guard. So this is my favorite this season.”

Earlier in his career, Feliciano exchanged with Jaguars center Brandon Linder, his former roommate at Miami.

“I tried to emulate his work ethic at Miami,” Feliciano said. “He was a big help to get where I'm at now. Looking at that, it’s just a reminder of how far we’ve come since college.”

Defensive end Shaq Lawson

Lawson is one of the Bills’ more prolific jersey swappers. He’s been doing it since he entered the league in 2016 as a first-round draft pick out of Clemson. This season, he’s exchanged with several former Tigers, including Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, Giants running back Wayne Gallman and Titans receiver Adam Humphries. Additionally, Lawson exchanged with former Bills teammate Ronald Darby, currently with the Eagles, as well as training partner Maliek Collins, a defensive tackle for the Cowboys. Last week, Lawson traded with Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts.

“I respect them for their game and how they play,” Lawson said. “It's a tradition by now. Once I found out you could do it in the league, I've had the opportunity to trade with a lot of people.”

Lawson’s favorite is from his rookie year, when he swapped with former Clemson teammate Vic Beasley, who had 15.5 sacks for the Falcons that season.

“At the end of the day, it's bigger than the game,” Lawson said. “Most of those guys from Clemson, we was a family at one point in time. We want to keep it in the family. How hard you work, the grind you've all been through, it’s all respect.”

Lawson even has his eye on who the Bills might play in the postseason. If it’s the Texans, he’s angling for another former Clemson teammate in quarterback Deshaun Watson. If it’s the Chiefs, he’s after former Bills teammate Sammy Watkins.

Guard Quinton Spain

Spain also has a large collection in his locker at the Bills’ facility. His personal favorite is from earlier in his career when he played against former defensive end Kendall Langford. Both Langford and Spain are from Petersburg, Va. Also included in Spain’s collection are jerseys from Patriots guard Shaq Mason, Bears guard Corey Levin, Redskins defensive end Jonathan Allen and Titans defensive end Matt Dickerson. Mason and Spain were part of the same draft class and have stayed in contact, while Levin and Dickerson are former teammates with the Titans.

Spain laughed when he came across Dickerson’s jersey, remembering how much of a “hothead” he was in their battles at practice.

“He’d do all that extra stuff,” he joked. “It’s all good now, though. It’s all love.”

Linebacker Corey Thompson

Thompson has exchanged this season with Dolphins cornerback Ryan Lewis (a former teammate with the Bills), Giants receiver Russell Shepard (like Thompson, an LSU product), Broncos cornerback Davontae Harris and former Steelers safety Kameron Kelly.

“All those guys, I either train with them or I played with them, either in college or the NFL,” Thompson said. “No personal favorites because all those are my guys, you know what I mean? To be able to play in the NFL, it's one of the greatest blessings you can have. With that, you and all your guys who worked hard to get there, we trade our jerseys because we work hard for them. Our last name is on an NFL jersey. We're all in this together. We're a fraternity.

“It's a symbol of all the hard work that you've done and all the hard work that your guys have put in as well. They’re like trading cards, kind of. Everybody that I consider my brother, I want to be able to exchange with those guys. When you're on the field, you're not friends, but when the game is over, you're back to being normal.”

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