I haven't really figured out how I feel about the legends jersey concept. I do think right now it's kind of haphazard and thus bound to establish some undesireable results. I'd rather have the numbers in circulation than retired, or semi-retired due to nobody meeting too-high expectations for it like with 1. But I also don't want them to replace established numbers, or to sit on the bench, or to become so exclusive that it turns off recruits who would be interested in that number for other reasons.
I don't like the idea of switching jerseys mid- or late-career. I think a player who starts having an impact when they're young makes their number their own. It's one thing for Braylon to ask to switch from 80 to 1 because he is stepping up from being the 3rd receiver to The Guy. That stuff is cool from time to time. What I don't like is Roundtree going to 21 to honor Desmond for jus this senior year. We have this picture in our minds of Roy Roundtree as a Michigan player, and he's wearing 12. What if Hart switched to 98 in 2007? Hart's 20, you know?
It also begs the question of establishing new legacies. What if in 2013 LaQuon Treadwell comes to Michigan, puts on 21 with the Desmond Howard patch, and then proceeds to break every receiving record in our books, winning two Heismans and a national championship in the process? /firstworldproblems. The lesser point here is what about Biakabutuka, who is a minor legend and wore 21 and is all but forgotten.
Biakabutuka brings up another thing: what about guys who want a certain number at a different position? Sam McGuffie didn't work out here, but he was really excited about wearing 2 and if I recall correctly Dee Hart was all about coming in and wearing 3. We could be creating a situation where a defensive back, say, wants to wear 21 in honor of his brother fighting with the 21st Infantry Regiment in Afghanistan (they came home in '09 -- just using as an example).
So if I'm designing this system from the ground up, screw positions and make it a thing that you can attain either as a freshman, a redshirt freshman, or a true sophomore. How it would work is a player who is interested in the Michigan Legends Program can apply to wear one of these numbers (current retired jerseys plus Benny Friedman plus 21 and 2) if they're available. He doesn't have to be the best on the team, but he must show exemplary conditioning and commitment to the program, must be in good academic standing, and must make the first team.
This leaves it open to the types of recruits who could be enticed by it, but avoids the embarassment of having a legends number on a guy who doesn't work out (e.g. JT Turner wearing Woodson's 2). It also provides the player with some extra incentive and a goal to work toward. Meanwhile it avoids having a player spend three years making a different number special (e.g. Denard and 16) only to have it changed to a number some other player made special. The odd David Terrell who comes in ready to play right away can win #1 and have that push him to live up to Anthony Carter's number his whole career. The Molk who wins the center job as a RS freshman could take Gerald Ford's number. The Denard who as a true sophomore leaps an established starter from his same class could, if he so chose, take 27. And there would still be plenty of time left to establish those players in those numbers. Meanwhile the numbers would circulate with less frequency, but when they were used, since you need a certain level of talent to earn a starting job at Michigan at one of those positions so early in your career, they'd most often be on a player worthy of carrying on the legacy
The program could include, provided he's alive, some sort of support or mentorship from the Legend who established that jersey.
Furthermore let it be established that new Legends jerseys cannot be designated until 10 years after the player graduates or would have graduated if they left early, and the number shall stay in circulation until then (so for example if this was in place, 2 could be worn by anybody until 2009, when Woodson would be eligible to become a Legend).
As for the too many patches problem: I agree a clean looking jersey is preferable, but there's only limited space and honestly I'd rather there be a big oval Desmond Howard Patch marring the clean look than a corporate logo or even the Block M. Patches will creep; it is a certainty of sports uniforms. If there's a spot where only a big patch can go, then that spot will have to remain empty of other patches on the rest of the jerseys.