Patrick Mahomes had his kneecap popped into back place live on national television as the Chiefs, a Super Bowl contender, saw their season flash before their eyes.
It’s hard to imagine a more significant injury, to a more significant body part, than the arguably the best quarterback in the game on a contending team having his knee knocked out of alignment.
For far too many teams, for far too many years, their seasons have hinged on the health and fate of a starting quarterback. Removing the 1990 Giants and the 2017 Eagles, who managed to win the Super Bowl with a capable backup, a significant injury to a starting quarterback has torpedoed many a team’s chances.
When this happens, millions of dollars for owners and cities are flushed down the drain, or more aptly, redistributed to another team that is able to capitalize on the misfortune and advance further than they should. The point is, injuries to NFL quarterbacks affect more than just the player– they impact the team, coach, owner, fan base, city, and the rest of the league. A lot is at stake, not the least of which is money. It’s that last one that might compel NFL owners and executives to take a long, hard look at what I’m going to call the Emergency QB Rule.
Emergency QB Rule
While I make no claim to be a European soccer expert, we are all aware of their loan system, where players unable to get playing time on their current squad are loaned out to another one so they can play, develop, and further advance their careers.
Imagine if we allowed the same in the NFL.
This season has already chewed up Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes. Last year, it was Aaron Rodgers. And the year before, it was Carson Wentz.
What if their teams were able to grab another top flight quarterback off the shelf at the end of the season to give themselves a fighting chance to continue their trajectory?
My proposed Emergency QB Rule would be as follows:
Beginning after Week 12, teams that are facing elimination or have been eliminated from the playoffs would, at their own discretion, have the ability to loan their designated starting quarterback to a contending team in need of one due to injury.
Each team in the league would have to designate their starter, not wholly unlike a franchise tag, prior to the start of the season. Should this player go down with what multiple doctors declare as a season-ending injury (ie they have to be medically ruled out through the end of February), those teams would have the option to approach another team about renting their starting quarterback for the remainder of the season.
Compensation would consist of the renting team having to pay the quarterback’s original team the prorated remainder of his salary for that season, including any and all bonuses that would be earned for advancing in the postseason or winning the Super Bowl, or even an MVP award. They would be allowed a one-time cap exception if this payment led to them going over the salary cap. The loaned quarterback would have to agree to the deal and has right of refusal, no questions asked.
The renting team, who would have far more to lose should their player get injured, would be heavily compensated by the league. Whatever the amount of salary paid to their player on a prorated portion by the renting team would be deducted from their salary cap hit the following season. Meaning if their player is paid $5 million in salary by a renting team at the end of the season, the original team would be able to deduct $5 million from their cap hit the next year, affording them the opportunity to improve their team with impact players… for the willingness to loan out their quarterback at the end of the season.
If the player was injured, some sort of additional compensation would have to be agreed upon in advance by the two teams.
They would also be given a compensatory draft pick between the first and second rounds by the league. If multiple teams were awarded these picks, they would be ordered by the team with the worse record.
In many cases, teams that are out of the playoffs may have a quarterback in the last year of his contract or whom they otherwise might be willing to part ways with at season’s end anyway. So in some cases the loan might not have any practical impact.
For the player, this would provide an opportunity for a good quarterback stuck on a loser, think Matthew Stafford, to compete for a Super Bowl. The risk is arguably no different playing behind the offensive line of a team destined for the playoffs versus playing behind the offensive line of a losing team. The risk of injury, one can argue, is null and void, save for the extra games that could be played in January and February.
Who says no to this? All parties would have to agree first off, so unique situations could simply be declined the way any trade could be declined. If one side or player doesn’t want to do it, it doesn’t happen. But the option is intriguing. Teams whose fortunes and perhaps years of building are focused on the health of a particular quarterback would have an oh shit valve which they are able to pull in case of emergency.
If they’re able to find a willing partner, they might be able to save their season.
Teams that are down-and-out have long benefited from tanking at the end of the year to improve their draft stock, trading away decent players to gather draft picks, and so on. In the right situation, the risk of a quarterback on a losing team getting injured would be outweighed by the extra cap space and draft picks afforded to the team the following season.
This is another way to create parity in the NFL. You allow teams who are genuine contenders to have some insurance should one of their star players go down, and that creates an opportunity for a lesser team to improve themselves the next year. The virtuous cycle continues.
For quarterbacks, the risk of injury is there, but as we discussed, it’s probably no different than if they were playing on their current team. It also affords them the opportunity to improve their brand or stock. Imagine if someone like Matthew Stafford went to the Chiefs or Saints in early December, learned the system, and was able to lead them to a Super Bowl. The marketing opportunities, bonus payments, and down-the-line free agency worth, would all be because of that run.
Nick Foles is a good example. Though he wasn’t rented by the Eagles, he was a backup quarterback who made himself tens of millions of dollars by leading a weakened team to win the Super Bowl.
There is of course the issue of a quarterback having to learn a new system. So again, in certain situations it wouldn’t make sense to trade for a player who plays an entirely different one. But there is a ton of coaching incest throughout the league what with coaching trees being what they are. Quarterbacks would have some familiarity with these systems of other teams.
What if the Chiefs wanted to rent Nick Foles come December? If Patrick Mahomes was declared out for the remainder of the season– Foles has played for the Chiefs, is familiar with Andy Reid’s style of play and his coaching tree, and would’ve been the Jaguars’ designated starter heading into the year. The Chiefs would have to pay hard cash, the Jaguars would be afforded a discount on their cap hit next year and an extra first round pick with which to replace Jalen Ramsey.
Beyond the on-field impact, the emergency QB rule would create a whole new subsection of sports talk radio and debate show fodder.
Imagine the conversations taking place today about what the Chiefs or perhaps even the Saints will do after Thanksgiving should they remain in contention for a buy. Talking heads would scream about such and such owner being too cheap to pay an extra few million bucks out of his pocket to keep his team in contention, or they might shriek about an owner willing to part with his franchise quarterback and risk injury, simply so his team can collect a few bucks and an extra pick. This sort of thing was built for the modern age of discussion.
It would be a small boon to in the league, akin to a free trade deadline in the middle of the season. What’s more, it would be active from Weeks 12-17, creating renewed interest in the league as a whole heading into the playoffs.
There might not be a rental or a loan every year. In many cases, it wouldn’t make sense for one of the three parties involved. But every year would see a situation where vociferous debate would be created. Again, good for the league, good for the teams.
But some years, and I’d argue more than not, some quarterback from a middling team would be loaned to a contending one and create one of the most compelling storylines in the league. Snd in the process, save the fate for one team that suffered a misfortune to their starting quarterback.