Detroit Lions Position Analysis: Could Team Keep Only Two Quarterbacks?

TuffLynxContributor IAugust 26, 2010

DENVER - AUGUST 21:  Quarterback Drew Stanton #5 of the Detroit Lions celebrates his 25 yard game winning touchdown with teammates late in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos during preseason NFL action at INVESCO Field at Mile High on August 21, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Lions defeated the Broncos 25-20.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions have three quarterbacks in camp: Matthew Stafford, Shaun Hill, and Drew Stanton.  Everybody in the NFL knows that these three quarterbacks will make the cut when the Lions pare the roster to 53 players on September 4th.  But on further review, maybe not!

Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill are safe.  Anybody that even implies that either of those players will not make the roster is certifiably crazy.  The only place where the Lions have room to play with quarterbacks is with Drew Stanton.  It has become en vogue for some fans to speculate the Lions will keep only two quarterbacks on the roster.  But does this really make sense?

The NFL rules allow a team to carry 53 players on the roster for the season.  Only 45 of those players are allowed to be active for a game and dress.  The other eight players are considered inactive and do not dress for the game.  But the quarterback position has a special exception called the "third quarterback rule."

The "third quarterback rule" allows a team to dress and use a third quarterback in the game that was originally inactive at game time.  There are several stipulations to this rule that prevent a team from abusing it.  For instance, a third quarterback cannot enter the game before the fourth quarter or both of the other two quarterbacks will become ineligible to play in the remainder of the game.  This discourages use of the third quarterback in situations other than injury.

The third quarterback must come from the eight inactive players who were already on the 53 man roster prior to the start of the game.  This means that the team cannot activate somebody from the practice squad during the game in order to dress them as the third quarterback.

These rules work together to encourage teams to keep three quarterbacks on their 53 man roster at all times, and almost all teams do just that.  But when your roster is very tight and you are looking at cutting players that might help you, then the coaches may be tempted to roll the dice on keeping that third quarterback.

Drew Stanton is in the final year of his contract.  It has become clear that the Lions do not have any plans to keep Stanton after this season.  Matthew Stafford is clearly the starting quarterback.  The Lions gave a contract extension to Shaun Hill and barring injury, Stanton will not pass him on the depth chart.  So would the Lions decide to part ways with Stanton early and cut him this season?

The Lions could sign a young quarterback and put them on the practice squad.  Then the Lions could carry only two quarterbacks on their roster to protect somebody else they think would be claimed from the practice squad by another team. 

But if both Stafford and Hill are put out of action in the same game, the Lions would not have a quarterback to complete the game.  They would either have to play somebody out of position at quarterback or forfeit the game.  Once the game is over they could activate the quarterback from the practice squad or sign another quarterback to come in and play.

One of the problems with this approach is that if Stafford and Hill are only out for a couple of weeks the Lions will have trouble making room on the roster for another quarterback.  You wouldn't want to put either of the top two quarterbacks on injured reserve for a short term injury because you would lose them for the season.  So now you are faced with exactly the same problem that kept you from having a third quarterback on the roster in the first place.

It doesn't seem sensible that the Lions would take such a chance.  Quarterbacks get injured in games frequently in the NFL.  Last season all three Lions quarterbacks saw action. 

Forfeiting a game in the NFL is not something that would create good publicity or a feeling of comfort in the competence of the coaches.  Playing somebody out of position at quarterback wouldn't be much better.  The Lions have had too much bad publicity of late to invite more laughter at their expense.

If the Lions were intent on getting rid of Drew Stanton early, they would have cut him already.  The coaches would have wanted to get the new quarterback in camp as early as possible in order to familiarize them with the playbook. Stanton was evaluated during Off-season Training Activities and the coaches decided to keep him.  If they were going to release Stanton that would have been when it happened.

It may be tempting to say Drew Stanton is expendable.  Certainly we can point to a number of players that might be cut who would have more future with the Lions than Stanton.  But the NFL rules make keeping two quarterbacks a very risky proposition.  Taking that kind of risk would be entirely out of character for the Lions coaching staff and front office.  If you are waiting for Drew Stanton to depart soon, don't hold your breath on it.