The NFL has a reputation for being reactive rather than proactive. One of the biggest reactionary moves during the 2022 season was in response to the NFC Championship game between the 49ers and Eagles, where both San Francisco’s quarterbacks were injured, making the game difficult to watch. In response, the NFL brought back the emergency third quarterback rule. However, this rule does not offer a meaningful solution. The rule requires teams to allocate an official roster spot for a third quarterback, which most teams are unwilling to do. Last year, before the rule was reinstated, 12 teams had three quarterbacks on their roster, and this year, it has only increased to 13 teams.
Therefore, most teams will continue to rely on just two quarterbacks, as it is rare for both quarterbacks to be injured in the same game. Additionally, the third-string quarterback is often considered to be the third-string for a reason, and if they are forced to play, it usually means the team is already struggling. In practical terms, the return of the third quarterback rule is unlikely to prevent a repeat of the issues seen in Philadelphia.
Despite its limited effectiveness, the NFL has sent out a Q&A on the emergency third quarterback rule. The rule emphasizes the need for a “bona fide” third quarterback, ensuring that teams do not try to exploit the system by using a non-quarterback player as a backup. The rule also states that the third quarterback must leave the game as soon as one of the primary quarterbacks is cleared to return.
However, there is one intriguing aspect to consider. If the starting quarterback is injured and the backup is being evaluated for a head injury or other minor injury, the third quarterback may be given the opportunity to play. If the third quarterback performs well, the coach may be tempted to delay the return of the backup, disrupting the usual pressure coaches put on medical staff to clear injured players quickly.
Ideally, the league should have brought back the third quarterback rule in its previous form. Under that formulation, if the third quarterback entered the game in the first three quarters, neither of the other quarterbacks could return. By the fourth quarter, any of the three quarterbacks could play. Additionally, the league should allow teams to elevate the emergency quarterback from the practice squad, freeing up a roster spot for a non-quarterback player. This would ensure more teams have a third quarterback available, reducing the risk of a team being left without healthy quarterbacks in a high-profile game.
In conclusion, while the NFL’s reintroduction of the emergency third quarterback rule may not have a significant impact, it provides a small measure of attempted improvement. Hopefully, in the future, the league will reconsider its approach and implement more comprehensive solutions.