NFL tables discussion of third-quarterback rule until May


PHOENIX — Some variation of the old third-quarterback rule still could be returning to the NFL this season.

After the fiasco in the NFC Championship Game in which the 49ers lost Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson to injuries, the Detroit Lions made a rules proposal to allow for each team to carry one additional quarterback for games.

The topic was discussed at the NFL Annual Meeting this week, said Rich McKay, the chair of the league’s Competition Committee. The proposal was tabled until the next meeting in May.

“I think the whole league’s talking about it,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “It opened a lot of eyes.

“I do think we’re in a different place with the league because of concussion protocols and having spotters pulling quarterbacks. I think we should account for it.”

The NFL had a third-quarterback rule in effect from 1991 to 2010. Each team was allowed to suit up an emergency third quarterback. If the third quarterback entered the game in the first three quarters, the other two quarterbacks were prohibited from returning to action.

Some teams voiced concern that other teams abused the rule by having a reserve quarterback participate on special teams. The NFL added one additional player to suit up, and it could be a player at any position.

Because the third quarterback was so rarely required, every team typically has used that added spot for a non-quarterback.

The topic of a third quarterback became a discussion point after the letdown of what was expected to be an entertaining NFC Championship Game.

However, Purdy sustained a torn elbow ligament in the first quarter and backup quarterback Josh Johnson sustained a concussion in the third quarter of the 49ers’ 31-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Although Purdy was unable to function, he was forced to return to the game when Johnson was ruled out. Purdy completed his only two short pass attempts of the second half for a total of 4 yards as the 49ers could not even attempt to mount a comeback.

“I think America, the world, would have loved to have seen that game,” Lynch said. “I don’t know if having a third guy would’ve [helped], but it would’ve been a lot better than being in the wildcat for the rest of the game.”

RELATED: Shanahan says Purdy's injury leaves slight opening for Lance

McKay said there was discussion of all the logistics, such as whether players on the practice squad would be eligible for third-quarterback duty or whether it would be required that the third quarterback must occupy a spot on the 53-man roster.

“There’s definitely a difference of opinion when it comes to that in the room,” McKay said. “So I think our idea was to work on that and it could be something that shows up this year. We’ll talk about it again in May, but I do believe there was a lot of support for it.”

If the 49ers had the services of a third quarterback, practice-squad quarterback Jacob Eason likely would have been called upon to rescue the season. Jimmy Garoppolo was unavailable, though he was getting close to returning from a fractured foot.

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