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NFL jersey swaps: After the game ends, Eagles players say they can briefly become fans again

It might seem incongruous after a hard-fought game, but as the teams mill about on the field, players autograph and swap their jerseys with friends or other players they admire.

Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce plants a kiss on his brother, Eagles’ center Jason Kelce (right) as they exchange jerseys after their game in September of last season.Travis scored in the fourth quarter, going airborne into the end zone in their 27-20 win over the Eagles.
Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce plants a kiss on his brother, Eagles’ center Jason Kelce (right) as they exchange jerseys after their game in September of last season.Travis scored in the fourth quarter, going airborne into the end zone in their 27-20 win over the Eagles.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

If you frame things for a living, it might be worth your while to get to know some NFL players.

At the end of games, before the TV announcers toss it back to the studio, maybe you’ve noticed players from both teams milling about on the field. In at least a few of the clusters, guys are pulling off their jerseys and exchanging them with their opponents. Markers, inscriptions, and signatures usually are involved.

For a few minutes right after their week’s work is done, players become fans.

“I got a lot of jerseys,” says Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, who famously is the only player former Dallas tight end and current Monday Night Football analyst Jason Witten ever doffed his jersey for. Though Witten’s is the highlight of his collection, Ertz said he exchanges regularly, especially with former Stanford teammates playing in the league.

“When I’m done playing, [I’m going to] have a little man-cave with [framed jerseys from] all the guys I played against, all the guys I really respected,” Ertz said.

Few of the players interviewed have set up such spaces — most saw it as something they would do when they retire. The most notable exception is defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who has a shop back home in Mississippi, where he fixes cars and from which he runs a drag-racing team. Cox hangs his jersey collection there.

Ertz said he used former Eagles and Cowboys receiver Miles Austin as an intermediary to set up the swap with Witten. Several players said they usually text or talk to friends on other teams beforehand, so nothing awkward transpires on the field. (You want to ask me to the prom? But I already told Joey I would go to the prom with him!)

Eagles defensive end Chris Long noted that the equipment managers appreciate a heads-up, since they provide these things, and the fitted jerseys aren’t the ones you buy off a rack.

“I got [Washington’s Ryan] Kerrigan. I got [the Giants’] Janoris Jenkins, [Alec] Ogletree," Long said. "Some of my favorites I got were Justin Smith, and I got Marshawn Lynch last year. Charles Johnson. It’s either guys I played with or guys I really like, that we play the same position or whatever.”

Long said his father, Howie, also was a collector.

“One of these days, I’ll have a room where I’ll hang [stuff] from when I played,” he said. “You only get one chance to play. I know my dad, when I was growing up, used to trade a lot of helmets — they used to do that back in the day — and some jerseys. I want to have the same kind of thing going on.”

Long said the exchanges are a way of showing respect to peers on other teams.

“We all watch film and respect each other — that’s the one time you get to show it,” he said.

It might seem odd to fans, after seeing their team suffer a devastating loss, to watch players exchanging jerseys with hated rivals. After the Eagles lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC championship game following the 2002 season — the final Eagles game at Veterans Stadium, and one of the most painful setbacks in franchise history — left tackle Tra Thomas was the last player to trudge up the ramp to the home locker room. He did so with Bucs edge rusher Simeon Rice’s jersey draped over his shoulder.

There was a time, before free agency, and before agents set their clients up with offseason training facilities, where they mingled with players from around the league, that such interactions were less common.

“I think guys do it a lot more nowadays,” right guard Brandon Brooks said, even more than when he entered the league in 2012. “It’s just love of the game — at the end of the day, you guys battled, did your thing. Mutual respect.”

For years, no one asked for his jersey, Brooks said, but this season, as he worked toward his second Pro Bowl, with a Super Bowl ring to his credit, he has been asked twice.

“Two guys I know — Malik Jackson from Jacksonville and Kendall Lamm [of Houston]. Malik, I trained with coming out [of college]. Lamm was just a young pup when I was at Houston,” Brooks said. “I’ve never been a jersey-swap guy. I wasn’t going to be, like, ‘No.’ Both those guys are friends of mine.”

Defensive end Brandon Graham has the jersey of Redskins wide receiver Jehu Chesson hanging in his locker at the NovaCare Compex. Chesson is an obscure player nearly six years younger than Graham, but they are Michigan alums. That’s often the answer when you see an exchange and wonder, “Why would he want that guy’s jersey?”

“Most of the time it’s somebody asking me,” Graham said. “I try to ask, but sometimes it’s like, I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t know how people feel about it. I’d rather somebody ask me.”

Eagles defensive tackle Treyvon Hester, who notched his first career sack Sunday against Houston, collected a prized jersey when the Eagles played the Rams a few weeks back — No. 99, Aaron Donald. That would seem like a jersey-trading mismatch, if you didn’t know the backstory.

“We were high school teammates,” at Penn Hills, near Pittsburgh, Hester said. “I just shot him a text the week of, asked him for a picture and a jersey swap. He was all for it. We go way back, we still train together in the offseason.”

Hester said his ambition is to “make a big man cave, get everybody’s jersey down there, just sit back when I get older, and look back at the good times.”

Hester said he is up for almost any swap.

“Guys I respect, guys I played with, veteran guys. Anybody who’s willing to help me out,” he said. “I asked a couple of the guys here in the d-line room, because I got a lot of respect for those guys — Fletcher Cox, Haloti Ngata, Chris Long, B.G. [Graham] — I would like to have a piece of their legacy with me, because I got to really suit up and play next to those guys. It just means a lot to be able to build a bond with a lot of guys on and off the field.”

Not everyone feels this way. Left guard Stefen Wisniewski said he has enough memorabilia, doesn’t want to add to the clutter, and doesn’t want to shell out the few hundred dollars to replace his jersey — though other Eagles said they weren’t sure whether they end up paying for the exchanged jerseys. “They’ve been pretty cool about it,” Long said. “It depends on the organization.”

Rookie running back Josh Adams has just one such prize — the No. 54 Dallas jersey of his former Notre Dame teammate, linebacker Jaylon Smith.

“Just starting to get into it,” Adams said. “Obviously, I got to get the guys from Notre Dame first. Jaylon, that’s like the big bro. My freshman year, he looked out for me. It’s just great to compete with guys you’ve played on a team with.

“Once I get all of ‘em, do something special with ‘em. I’d love to get all the guys from Notre Dame. That’d be great.”

That strategy wouldn’t take much effort for someone like Brooks, who noted that he and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are the only Miami of Ohio alums in the league.

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor has three jerseys in his stall. His most recent acquisition is the No. 14 of ex-Eagle and current Texan DeAndre Carter.

“I got Antwaun Woods [from Dallas], and I got Robert Woods [of the Rams]. So I got two USC guys and D’re,” Agholor said, with a lot more at home.

His plan?

“Frame ‘em up, put ‘em in my house, tell my kids a bunch of stories when I get older … some fibs. Probably lie to my kids about how good I was.”

Jersey swap quiz:

Here are 10 of the jerseys hanging in the NovaCare locker room from teams the Eagles have played this season. Match the number with the opposing team player.

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1. Jehu Chesson; 2. Cameron Jordan; 3. Jaylon Smith; 4. DeAndre Carter; 5. Janoris Jenkins; 6. Mason Foster; 7. Antwaun Woods; 8. Aaron Donald; 9. Ryan Kerrigan; 10. Devin Funchess.