NFL's 'emergency QB' rule clarification directly impacts Patriots

NFL's 'emergency QB' rule clarification directly impacts Patriots originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

When the NFL announced that it had passed a rules proposal that allowed teams to carry a third "emergency" quarterback on game days, it was relatively straightforward.

But the league published specifics related to the new rule on Monday. And those specifics impact the Patriots.

First, here's a quick review of what passed back in May.

In essence, teams were told they could dress a third emergency quarterback on game days so long as that third quarterback was on the 53-man roster. He could not be an elevated practice-squad player. The emergency passer would not count toward the game-day roster limit, and he could only get into a game if the team's other two quarterbacks were injured (or disqualified) and could not participate.

Here's the proposal, courtesy of NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.

Under the rule's specifics published on Monday, it's made clear that the starter and the No. 2 quarterback must also be on the 53-man roster.

That's the piece that impacts the Patriots.

In the wording of the rule proposal that passed, there was a bit of a loophole. It says the emergency quarterback must be on the 53-man roster. It does not specify that the No. 2 must also be on the 53.

Therefore, theoretically, the way the proposal was written, the Patriots could have called Bailey Zappe up off the practice squad to be the No. 2. Then they could have designated Matt Corral -- who's on the 53 -- to be the emergency No. 3.

That would've allowed the Patriots to have the longer-tenured Patriots player (Zappe) in uniform as the No. 2 to Mac Jones. It also would've allowed the Patriots to save a game-day roster spot and have a third quarterback (Corral) in uniform as its "emergency" signal-caller.

While it's unlikely that any team will be forced to use three different quarterbacks in one game, the Niners had a high-profile case of needing an emergency quarterback last year in the NFC Championship Game. When quarterbacks Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson were injured, San Francisco was out of passers. They lost to Philly, 31-7.

It's unclear if the Patriots would have exploited the emergency quarterback rule loophole had the rule stood as originally proposed. But now that the specifics of the rule have been released, the Patriots won't be able to take advantage of the new rule without first getting Zappe (or Malik Cunningham, who's still listed by the team as a quarterback) on the active roster.

The Patriots still could dress three quarterbacks without using the emergency rule. But then one of their game-day roster spots would be eaten up by a third quarterback, forcing the team to take a uniform away from an offensive lineman or a wide receiver or another position that may have a better shot of being used in the game.

In all likelihood, Bill Belichick will be choosing from one of the following scenarios at the quarterback position Sunday:

  • Activate Matt Corral, elevate Bailey Zappe from the practice squad and carry three quarterbacks without benefiting from the new emergency rule.

  • Elevate Bailey Zappe to be the No. 2; make Matt Corral a healthy scratch.

  • Activate Matt Corral as the No. 2; not elevate Zappe from the practice squad.

If Belichick wants a fourth scenario available to him -- to make either Zappe or Corral the "emergency" third arm -- he'll have to elevate Zappe to the active roster first.