This year, many Chiefs fans have assumed that 12-year NFL veteran Blaine Gabbert will be backing up quarterback Patrick Mahomes in 2023.
There is ample evidence for that assumption.
In all but one of head coach Andy Reid’s 10 seasons in Kansas City, he has had a veteran player behind his backup quarterback: Chase Daniel (2013-2015), Nick Foles (2016) and Chad Henne (2018-2022).
(Veteran Matt Moore, of course, was 2019’s backup. But he was filling in for Henne, who had been injured in the preseason).
The only deviation from Reid’s normal routine has been Mahomes — who backed up Alex Smith during his rookie season in 2017. I expect, however, that we’ll all agree that this was merely the first of several hundred times that the two-time NFL MVP has proved to be the exception to a rule.
But as our Caleb James showed in his Arrowhead Pride film review on Tuesday, Gabbert is now facing a serious challenge from third-year player Shane Buechele to become the primary backup. Both played very well during Saturday’s 38-10 preseason defeat of the Arizona Cardinals.
If this were any other season under Reid, the battle between these two would determine which one of them would secure a spot on the 53-man roster — and which one would spend the season on the team’s practice squad. This has been a consistent tendency in Reid’s approach in Kansas City.
But a new rule adopted by the league in 2023 has changed that. Under this provision, teams can dress a third “emergency” quarterback who does not count against the normal 47/48-player gameday roster limit.
This rule has two important stipulations. First, the third quarterback must be on the 53-man roster; they can’t be a player who was elevated from the practice squad. The second is that the third quarterback may only play if both the first and second quarterbacks have been injured. In fact, once the third quarterback has entered the game, he must return to the bench if either of the other two quarterbacks are later cleared to return.
So when the Chiefs chose not to roster a fullback this season — the first time that’s happened during Reid’s tenure — it likely wasn’t because Reid had finally been convinced that fullbacks no longer have a legitimate role in today’s game. It’s more likely to have happened because Reid wanted that roster spot for a third quarterback.
How do we know this? Because from 1999 through 2010 — when Reid was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles (and gameday rosters were limited to 45 players) — the league had a similar emergency quarterback rule. In eight of those 12 seasons, the Eagles rostered three quarterbacks.
So regardless of which quarterback ends up being considered Mahomes’ primary backup for 2023, both Gabbert and Buechele are very likely to make the team’s initial 53-man roster next Tuesday.
Here’s the only question to be decided: which one will be designated as the emergency quarterback?
My money is on Buechele — because even in Philadelphia, Reid tended to replace injured starting quarterbacks with veterans. But if Mahomes is declared out before a game begins, my guess is that Buechele will be the starter.
Here’s why: if the team simply has to get through a game after Mahomes is injured, Gabbert’s experience will be the key factor. But if the Chiefs have to begin a game without their starter, the younger, more athletic Buechele will be the quarterback who stands the best chance of success while running Mahomes’ offense.
Here’s to hoping we never have to find out if I’m right.