NFL owners approved a rule change Monday that allows teams to play an emergency quarterback from the inactive list if the first two are injured during a game, a decision that stems from San Francisco’s depth-chart challenge in the NFC Championship game.
The bylaw was initially proposed by the Detroit Lions. The third quarterback designation will not count against the limit of active players — either 47 or 48 — that is determined 90 minutes before kickoff.
The USFL enacted a similar rule prior to the start of the 2023 season.
The emergency activation can only occur after injury or disqualification, not for a performance-related decision or other conduct. If either of the first two quarterbacks are cleared by the team’s medical staff to return to play, the third must be removed from the game and can only return as a quarterback if an injury scenario arises again.
If a team puts three quarterbacks on the active list for a game, it can’t use the emergency option. Game-day practice squad elevations are not eligible, either.
The 49ers had running back Christian McCaffery warming up his arm in the NFC championship game in Philadelphia, after Brock Purdy injured his elbow and Josh Johnson suffered a concussion. Purdy was forced back into the game but unable to throw the ball more than 10 yards as the 49ers scrapped their game plan for a run-heavy attack in their 31-7 loss to the Eagles on Jan. 29.
League owners convened in Minnesota on Monday for their spring meetings, with the pending sale of the Washington Commanders from Dan Snyder’s family to Josh Harris’ group remaining a prominent if not pressing issue. No vote on the record $6.05 billion transaction that will occur this week.
"There’s certain criteria that has to be met, and that’s just the way it is. It’s not there yet, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t get there. It’s complicated. Put it that way. I could explain it to you, and it wouldn’t tell you anything," said Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, a member of the league finance committee.
Neither Snyder nor his wife, Tanya, came to Minnesota for the meeting. The league’s preference, Irsay said, is to have the deal approved prior to the start of the regular season. Irsay indicated the amount of money at stake and the amount of investors involved in Harris’ group — which includes National Basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson — has lengthened the approval process.
"We’re working hard. Everyone wants to get it done, and it’s seeing that it just complies with league policy. It’s a complicated deal, so we’re trying to just work through it and we’re hopeful we can get it done. It’s going to take probably several more weeks of discussions before we see if we can reach the goal line," Irsay said.
Reporting by The Associated Press.