How the NFL’s new third QB rule impacts Patriots, Malik Cunningham

How NFL’s new third QB rule impacts Patriots, Malik Cunningham originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The “Brock Purdy Rule” has been put into effect.

NFL owners have approved a bylaw that will allow teams to dress a third quarterback for games without having to use a roster spot on that player.

The league allowed teams to dress a third “emergency QB” beginning in 1991 but got rid of the rule in 2010. The 2022 NFC Championship Game put the rule back in the spotlight, however, as starter Brock Purdy and backup Josh Johnson both suffered injuries that forced the San Francisco 49ers to essentially abandon their passing game with an injured Purdy under center in an eventual loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

While the third-QB rule should prevent a similar scenario, it comes with two important stipulations. First, the QB must be on the team’s 53-man roster, which means a club can’t designate a practice squad player as its emergency quarterback. Second (and more notable), the emergency QB can only enter the game if the other two quarterbacks are both injured or ejected.

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“If either of the injured quarterbacks is cleared by medical staff to return to play, the emergency third quarterback must be removed from the game and is not permitted to play quarterback or any other position,” the rule reads.

That’s an important caveat that prevents the New England Patriots and other teams from exploiting a potential loophole.

While Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe are established as New England‘s first- and second-string QBs, undrafted free-agent signing Malik Cunningham has an intriguing skill set. The former Louisville quarterback racked up 3,179 rushing yards and 50 rushing touchdowns in college, so if he makes the team, the Patriots potentially could use him as a dual-threat option or in trick-play scenarios.

Under the NFL’s new rule, however, Cunningham could only enter a game for the Patriots if both Jones and Zappe get injured or ejected — or if Bill Belichick bumps him up to No. 2 on the depth chart. New England also could get creative and convert Cunningham to wide receiver, but that would take away a valuable roster spot elsewhere.

It’s unclear if Cunningham will even make the 53-man roster — he’s competing with Trace McSorley for the third-string job — but this rule guards against a team like the Patriots trying to sneak a QB with a different skill set onto their game-day roster.

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