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NFL rules: Official explainer for third quarterback rule ahead of 2023 season

Understanding the exact rules for QB3 in 2023.

Denver Broncos v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images

In the immediate aftermath of the Dallas Cowboys trading for Trey Lance a very obvious upside began to present itself.

You see, this year the NFL officially adjusted the way that the emergency third quarterback on a team exists within the scope of the roster. Ironically the impetus for this adjustment was Lance’s former team in the San Francisco 49ers and the situation that plagued them in the NFC Championship Game, nevertheless it is the reality for everyone now.

While the idea of an “emergency” third quarterback has sounded intriguing the exact rules and specifications associated with the rule have confused a few people. Thankfully we now have some clarity.

The emergency third quarterback rules, explained

The spirit of the emergency QB3 rule exists in order to protect teams from not having a quarterback available to play for them. Given that the NFL is a quarterback league, having a quarterback is sort of important.

First and foremost for an emergency third quarterback to be eligible to fulfill the role they must be on a team’s 53-man roster. Trey Lance is on the 53 for the Cowboys for our purposes. Here is Tom Pelissero’s tweet with all relevant information.

While a member of the 53, Lance does not have to be an active gameday roster member to be eligible to play in a given game. Again, this is the entire purpose of the rule.

Nobody wants to predict injuries but in this instance the only way that Lance would be eligible to enter a game for the Cowboys as the EQB3 would be if both Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush were dealing with injuries (this includes the second being evaluated, not necessarily knocked out of a game). But he can only enter the game under these circumstances. The Cowboys cannot suddenly prefer Lance over another option mid-game.

For what it is worth EQB3s are allowed to warm up before the game just like everyone else. The only real difference between them and anyone else that is active is the way the league is identifying their presence relative to the game.

Interestingly there is a line in Pelissero’s note about development specifically.

Q: Are clubs allowed to use this rule to develop quarterbacks?

A: No. The Emergency Third Quarterback rule is not intended to be a developmental tool to provide a player game experience.

The Cowboys obviously do not want to break any rules but it seems as if someone like Trey Lance benefitting from the experience of being active and warming up will just be happenstance positive experience as opposed to that of the purposeful kind. It is also likely that he will have a radio in his helmet, a point that is answered in the final question.

This notes that teams are allowed three players on offense to have one but that if the EQB3 does not have one and has to enter the game that they cannot suddenly receive one. It makes sense to just give them one and in this case allow Lance to hear the offense as the game unfolds, purposeful development or not intended.

All told nothing here seems out of the normal of weird in any way. Hopefully we don’t have to see it put into action because as noted that would imply some dire circumstances.

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