At first glance, a new NFL rule change looked like it would be perfect for Bill Belichick and the Patriots to exploit come this fall.
On Monday, the NFL’s Spring League Meeting, teams adopted a new rule that will allow each club to designate an emergency quarterback in the event their two active quarterbacks get injured or disqualified during a game. This player doesn’t have to be activated on game days.
When the news initially broke, Patriots fans on social media came to a similar conclusion – this could be an opportunity for the Patriots to develop undrafted rookie quarterback Malik Cunningham, who is a dual-threat athletic player.
However, when you read the fine print, it’s clear that won’t be the case.
In this rule, teams can only designate a player to be their emergency quarterback who is on the 53-man roster. That means if someone like Cunningham is on the practice squad, he wouldn’t be eligible. This scenario also makes it impossible for a team like the Patriots to use a player like Cunningham in goal-line situations because he would have to be active.
- Related: Mobile sports betting is live in Massachusetts on FanDuel. Get started with $200 in bonus bets
This new rule will only help an NFL team when both their quarterbacks can’t play. In fact, in the event an injured quarterback is eligible to return to the game, the emergency quarterback is no longer eligible to play.
Emergency quarterbacks can only be used in the event of an injury or ejection. Coaches can’t use this rule to bench a quarterback for poor play.
For the Patriots, and all other teams, this rule makes a ton of sense. For example, last year in Week 4, Brian Hoyer suffered a concussion against the Green Bay Packers. That injury led to Bailey Zappe playing in the game and the Patriots without another quarterback on the game-day roster.
Although NFL teams hold 53 players on their active roster, only 45 players are eligible to play on game day. If that Week 4 scenario happens this season, the Patriots could theoretically have an emergency quarterback ready to play.
It’ll be interesting to see how Belichick handles that new rule this year. At the moment, the Patriots have four quarterbacks on their 90-man roster with Jones, Zappe, Cunningham and Trace McSorely. In the event they want to be able to use an emergency quarterback, Belichick will have to keep three quarterbacks on his 53-man roster.
Jones and Zappe are expected to compete for the starting job, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Patriots keep three quarterbacks on their active roster. Last year, the team started with three with Jones, Hoyer and Zappe.
Cunningham will be an intriguing player to watch this offseason and will compete against McSorely for the Patriots third-string spot. The athletic quarterback from Louisville was given a contract that pays him $200,000 in guaranteed money. That’s more than most sixth-round picks receive.
Patriots OTAs started on Monday. The first open practice to the media is on Thursday.