No, the NFL Does Not Need to Bring Back the Third-Quarterback Rule

Following the blow out in the NFL Title Game, which saw the San Francisco 49ers forced to play an injured Brock Purdy at quarterback in the second half, a lot of media outlets are suggesting reinstating the 3rd-quarterback rule.

I disagree with that suggestion.


For those of you who are unfamiliar with the rule, from 1991 through 2010 NFL teams were allowed to dress a third quarterback at games. That quarterback would not count against the 45-man gameday roster limit but could be activated during the course of the game as an injury replacement. There were some restrictions as part of that rule, including the first- and second-string quarterbacks not being allowed back in the game if the third-string player was substituted before the fourth quarter.

While the situation that unfolded in the NFC Title Game may seem to make this rule relevant again, those who are asking for it are forgetting a very important detail - the NFL technically didn't get rid of it to begin with.

The original rule's restrictions made it overly complicated. That's why, at the start of the 2011 season, the NFL simplified things by just adding a 46th game day roster spot. The problem is, since the NFL also didn't require teams to use that extra spot for a third quarterback, many chose not to because they thought there were more pressing roster needs.

Even today, when NFL rules allow teams to have as many as 48 active players on gameday (as long as that number includes 8 offensive linemen), most NFL teams choose to keep just two quarterbacks. In other words, it isn't a problem with the rule (or a lack of one), it's a problem with shortsightedness.

The thing that SHOULD be getting discussed when it comes to that title game is did San Francisco really need to put Purdy back in the game. NFL rosters are full of players who have either played quarterback at some level or are at least athletic enough to be able to throw a pass. I personally find it hard to believe an injured Brock Purdy was the better option versus every other healthy player on the roster. And I'm also not convinced a practice-squad-level quarterback with no practice reps would have made much of a difference in the outcome either.

Instead of bringing back a rule that, for the past 12 years, has been a seldom-mentioned thing of history, the NFL just needs to remind teams there are no restrictions on the number of quarterbacks they keep on their gameday roster. At minimum, I'm sure coaches will be looking at the worst-case scenario the NFL Title Game presented and decide if they should reconsider who is dressed for the games.

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