Scramble'11: Impact of QB rule change

How eager am I to start talking football? Upon learning the NFL had dropped the 'third quarterback" game-day designation, I instant-messaged a colleague right away.

"Did you see that?" I cyber-exclaimed.

"Riveting," came the sarcastic response from the colleague, whose name rhymes with Rike Rando.

Well, on this Friday, at least, it is to me.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the NFL will no longer allow teams to have a third quarterback in uniform but technically inactive. In return, game-day rosters will be expanded from 45 to 46 players.

In most cases, this change will prove minor. Teams that want a third quarterback in uniform can include him on the 46-man roster. The option also now exists to deactivate him altogether, making room for an additional player at another position.

But there are two NFC North-related issues that make this change particularly interesting.

First, it allows teams to devise a strategic role for their third quarterback. Say, for example, the Minnesota Vikings sign a veteran backup for quarterback Christian Ponder. That would make Joe Webb their No. 3 quarterback. (All of that is quite possible, by the way.)

Previously, the third quarterback couldn't enter a game before the end of the third quarter. If he did, the rest of the team's quarterbacks were rendered ineligible. Now, the Vikings could make Webb their No. 3 quarterback and use him as a kick returner, receiver or as a Wildcat option throughout the game.

Second, it avoids teams facing the strategic dilemma the Chicago Bears dealt with in the NFC Championship Game. If you recall, starter Jay Cutler (knee) left the game in the third quarter and backup Todd Collins proved so ineffective that coach Lovie Smith decided to replace him with No. 3 quarterback Caleb Hanie.

As it turned out, the Bears regained possession just before the end of the third quarter. Smith's dilemma: Send in Hanie right away, thereby rendering Cutler and Collins ineligible for the rest of the game, or proceed two more plays with the quarterback he had already decided to bench.

Smith chose the latter, running the risk of having no quarterbacks available if Hanie got hurt. Under the new rule, no coach would be forced to balance those awkward and unnecessary options.

Riveting, right?