Why Do NFL Helmets Look Different in 2021?

Sports equipment evolves over time as the companies that make it develop new technologies they can implement in the manufacturing process. Player safety is often a driving force behind changes to players’ equipment. This is particularly important in a sport like football, which is known for its brutality and subsequent injuries.

If you’re watching NFL games this season, you might have noticed that the helmets look different from what you have seen in the past. Here’s why.

Who makes the new NFL helmets for 2021?

The NFL’s new helmets are made by Seattle-based VICIS, a company founded in 2013 that has built a reputation for building safer football helmets.  But Sport Techie writes financial troubles in 2019 nearly forced the company to shut down. It was saved when Aaron Rodgers invested in the company, along with other NFL stars including Russell Wilson.

VICIS also received $1.1 million in grants from the league. That was the boost the company needed to not only survive but also thrive. Earlier this year, the company announced that all 32 teams committed to purchasing its Zero2 helmets for their players.

VICIS makes position-specific NFL helmets

Detroit Lions center Frank Ragnow talks with teammates during a game
Lions center Frank Ragnow (C) talks with teammates during a game | Amy Lemus/NurPhoto

One advancement that has helped VICIS earn business with all NFL clubs is its innovation of making position-specific helmets. Its Trench helmet is designed for linemen and is the first position-specific helmet approved for use in NFL games.

The Trench features impact-absorption bumpers on the front and upper sides, representing areas where linemen often sustain hits in collisions. It is the second-safest helmet used in the league, according to test results released by the NFL and NFLPA. The Trench is sandwiched between two other VICIS models — the Matrix and the standard helmet — in the top three sports in that test.

With VICIS making helmets specifically for positions, the NFL is encouraging the company to create a quarterback-specific helmet. That process won’t truly begin, though, until the league finalizes its plan for future coach-to-quarterback communication. This technology may be removed from helmets and put into shoulder pads with quarterbacks wearing devices in their ears.

VICIS VP of Product Development Jason Neubauer believes the company can make helmets with screens attached that would display the quarterback’s play calls. He’s not sure, however, that the NFL is ready for that kind of technological from a competition standpoint.

How much does an NFL helmet cost?

Buying helmets approved for use in the NFL isn’t cheap, especially with more than 50 players on each active roster. According to the VICIS website, the Trench starts at $799. If you want to upgrade to the Trench Elite, which includes upgrades like a titanium facemask, it’ll cost you $999.

If you’re not a lineman, you can get the Zero2 for $100 less — $699 for the base model or $899 for the Elite. With 53 players on a roster, a team spends tens of thousands of dollars each season just on outfitting its squad with one helmet each. But it is a small price to pay for safety, especially with every team’s value being in the billions of dollars.

VICIS helmets aren’t just for pros. You can also buy some of their helmet styles for youth and amateur players. Because they don’t need NFL approval, they don’t have all the same features as the professional models, which results in lower prices. The Zero2 Youth, which VICIS calls a completely reimagined helmet for youth athletes, costs $549 and includes a deformable outer shell with a reinforced inner shell and a lightweight tubular steel facemask.

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