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Should the 49ers have carried three QBs on the 53-man roster?

Rohan Chakravarthi
Aug 31, 2023 at 2:42 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers 53-man roster is official. The team released an initial 53-man roster before making Injured Reserve(IR) moves to re-sign other cuts to the active roster.

The 49ers' roster was fairly straightforward, given the amount of talent on the roster, but there were still many battles at the backend of the team, leaving questions of who would ultimately make the final roster.

Amongst those questions? The third-string quarterback choice, as the 49ers rostered Brandon Allen, electing to keep three quarterbacks instead of utilizing that roster spot elsewhere.

Should the 49ers have rostered all three of their quarterback options or just rolled with Brock Purdy and Sam Darnold on the active roster?

Why they did it

Prior to the cutdown date, the 49ers decided to part ways with quarterback Trey Lance, seeding him to the Dallas Cowboys for a 2024 fourth-round pick.

While it was a bitter ending for the two sides, given the history of the selection, the 49ers did save some cap space in the move, and also freed up a roster spot, understanding they'd be forced to carry Lance on the 53-man roster if he remained on the roster.

Before we get into the disagreement on the choice, let's try to understand why the 49ers rostered Brandon Allen in addition to Purdy and Darnold.

After the 49ers' unheralded situation in the NFC Championship Game, where they were left with zero healthy options following two quarterback injuries, the NFL created a new rule in the offseason, stating that teams would be allowed to carry an "emergency" quarterback on gamedays.

Essentially, teams would be able to carry a third quarterback on gamedays, with the player not counting towards the 46-man active gameday roster, but would have to be on the 53-man roster.

Given the 49ers' recurring injuries at quarterback, primarily stemming from longtime starter Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco elected to go with a trusted veteran that they've had in the building throughout the offseason, giving them their "emergency" situation.

Why it wasn't a great decision

Let's look around the NFL.

Of the 32 NFL teams, only 12 decided to roster a third quarterback: the Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Las Vegas Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, and the Tennessee Titans.

The Carolina Panthers also initially rostered three quarterbacks, but cut Matt Corral after making a waiver claim, leaving Andy Dalton as the lone backup to Bryce Young.

Of those 12 teams, only five made the playoffs in 2023. But, there's a much clearer correlation between the teams rostering three quarterbacks: the third-string option is a young, developmental option that could amount to more in the future.

8 of the 12 teams fit the mold: Dallas(Trey Lance), Indianapolis(Sam Ehlinger), Las Vegas(Aidan O'Connell), Miami(Skyler Thompson), Minnesota(Jaren Hall), New Orleans(Jake Haener), Philadelphia(Tanner McKee), and Tennessee(Will Levis).

The other three teams are the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Atlanta and Houston each have first-year starters, with the former's third-stringer Logan Woodside compiling a strong preseason that could've resulted in a waiver claim, while the latter's third-stringer Davis Mills earned trade interest and is just 24 years old.

The point is: Brandon Allen, a 30-year-old career backup who hasn't been great in previous stints with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos, is the outlier here.

He isn't a young, developmental option, nor did he have a strong offseason or garner trade interest.

What makes matters worse is the number of quality or intriguing backup quarterbacks released, such as New England's Bailey Zappe and Carolina's Matt Corral.

Now, I'm not saying that the 49ers should just part ways with Allen altogether. But, with an intriguing undrafted cornerback in D'Shawn Jamison, who could've made an immediate impact on special teams, the 49ers could've gone in a different direction and had Allen be a third quarterback on the practice squad, maneuvering their roster more efficiently.

Which leads us back to the philosophy of having three quarterbacks.


When a team's starting quarterback goes down, it's internally assumed that a team's chances of making any traction are minimal to none.

That's why top contenders don't look to splurge at the backup quarterback position.

The Kansas City Chiefs have rolled with Chad Henne for the past few years. The Buffalo Bills previously went Matt Barkley and have Kyle Allen for this season. The list can continue on and on, with a few exceptions.

However, because the 49ers opted to go with Jimmy Garoppolo for five seasons as their starter, they consistently had to worry about the backup quarterback, given the veteran's injury history.

In general, the 49ers have opted for average quarterback play, instead choosing to insulate the remainder of the roster with top-end talent to give themselves a chance for success.

That quarterback philosophy has led them to several NFC Championships, but ultimately nothing to show for it. And, it's led them to prioritize the backup quarterback position more than other teams, inefficiently using their resources, both with salary cap space and 53-man roster spots.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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