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New third quarterback rule. Does this help the Browns?

NFL brings back old rule to help out in dire times

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame-New York Jets at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns had four quarterbacks for most of training camp. The thought process is that they will keep three on the final roster. The norm is only two.

During the NFL owner’s meetings this past spring, the league brought back the third quarterback rule, but with some new wrinkles. This was accomplished because of what happened to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game last year when their starter Brock Purdy suffered an elbow injury after being sacked on the final play of the Niners’ first offensive series. His backup, the well-traveled Josh Johnson, suffered a concussion in the third quarter.

The emergency quarterback at that point was RB Christian McCaffrey, or have Purdy play but not throw the remainder of the game.

The owners all know that each game hinges on quarterback play. And if every club’s signalcallers can’t play, game scores go down, fans lose interest, and then billionaire owners aren’t very happy with half-full stadiums.

How will the new third-quarterback rule come into play?

Origins of the rule

From the 1970s going into the 1990s, the norm for NFL clubs was to have just two quarterbacks on the gameday roster.

In 1990 during the Week 10 divisional matchup between the Washington Redskins (5-3-0) on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles (4-4-0) displayed in Prime Time on Monday Night Football, nine Redskins players left the game because of injuries.

Before the contest even began, Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan had told the media that they would defeat Washington so severely that “they’ll have to be carted off in body bags.”

Cleveland Browns v Philadelphia Eagles
Kellen Mond
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Two of those nine players were the only Redskins quarterbacks on the roster, Jeff Rutledge and his backup Stan Humphries. The game was finished by RB Brian Mitchell who had played the position at Southwestern Louisiana before begin switched to running back in the NFL. At SW Louisiana, Mitchell had been the first player in NCAA history to pass for more than 5,000 yards while rushing for more than 3,000 yards, so he had the experience. And being a rookie, that understanding was fresh.

When Rutledge left the game, it was a 7-7 tie. With the Humphries injury, the score was still close at a 14-7 Philly lead. The final score was an Eagles win 28-14 as Mitchell went 3-6 for 40 yards, but scored a late rushing touchdown from his quarterback spot.

After the game, several Eagles players were asking in jubilation if Washington needed more body bags. Because of Ryan’s remarks plus his players, the game has been coined “the body bag game.”

During the winter owner’s meeting, it was instituted a third quarterback rule to begin in 1991. The stipulations of the new rule allowed each team to dress a third quarterback who did not count toward the 46-player limit per game. However, this player could not enter the game before the fourth quarter or else the other two could not play regardless of the situation.

The full text of the rule:

“Teams will be permitted an Active List of 45 players and an Inactive List of eight players for each regular-season and postseason game. Provided, that if a club has two quarterbacks on its 45-player Active List, a third quarterback from its Inactive List is permitted to dress for the game, but if he enters the game during the first three quarters, the other two quarterbacks are thereafter prohibited from playing.”

The 2010 season was the final year of this rule as the NFL increased the roster size to allow 46 players to dress for a game.

The new rule, and how does it help the Browns?

The NFL owners revised the old rule and passed a bylaw to bring back the third quarterback rule for this upcoming season. It wasn’t the 49ers who brought it up for debate and a vote, but the Detroit Lions.

The revised rule states that the third quarterback can be placed on an inactive roster spot where the player would not use a spot on the 53-player active roster. If both quarterbacks are injured or tossed out of the game, the third QB may enter the game. However if either the starter or backup are medically cleared to go back in, the third QB must leave the game.

There is no doubt the change will cause ripple effects around the league. The implications are significant and essentially will employ a lot of quarterbacks who might be working out on their own waiting for the phone to ring. These guys have a new life that can now become classified as “the emergency quarterback.”

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Think about guys who are unemployed currently such as Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Nick Foles, Bryce Perkins, C.J. Beathard, and Chase Daniel. A continuation of their career can instantly be injected into these guys and just may begin a bidding war for the most talented. Not to mention the quarterbacks who are currently in an NFL camp that eventually will be cut on the final cutdown; or the amount of XFL and USFL talent that could be added to rosters.

How exactly will this new rule play out?

For this rule to even work, a team must have three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. Only 12 clubs employed three last year whereas every other team kept just two.

This will certainly change this year, including for the Browns.

With how crucial the position is within each game, the sheer violence, and the speed of defenders, why wouldn’t a team like Cleveland keep three guys on their roster with the notion that they could add an emergency guy on gameday and him not count against their gameday active players?

That is not to say that keeping three quarterbacks doesn’t come at a cost. If Cleveland retains Deshaun Watson, Kellen Mond, and the rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, that extra body means that another player at another position is lost.

Do the Browns keep five receivers instead of six? Is it possible they let go of a defensive end that maybe they would have kept? Another safety or cornerback? An extra special teams guy?

Or maybe Cleveland gets a bit creative.

What if the Browns cut two quarterbacks with the idea that they could re-sign them to the practice squad? The rules of this group allow four players to be protected so there is no chance of them being poached. Then the final roster could comprise just two quarterbacks. On gameday, they simply bring up one of their practice squad guys as the emergency third quarterback.

NFL: Preseason-Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With his play against the New York Jets in the Hall of Fame Game and the remainder of the preseason, DTR cannot be released and expected to not be claimed. People see the talent is there. What isn’t there to like about him? He has a strong arm and showed his precise throws. Intelligent, able to gain yardage with his legs, can escape the pocket, and came from a pro-style offense at UCLA while groomed by head coach Chip Kelly.

Mond could be retained or is destined for somebody’s practice squad. During the off-season, there wasn’t exactly a line wanting to sign Dobbs and eventually, he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals. On the surface, cutting one of these athletes would seem prudent if the coaching staff is wanting to retain another player at another position.

Or it doesn’t have to be Mond. Maybe one of the aforementioned veteran players is a better option.

Whichever direction the Browns go, they need their third quarterback to be a leader of men. That in itself may sway their decision.