May 28, 2014; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer (6) looks to pass during organized team activities at Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
“If Johnny Manziel can’t beat out journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer, how good can the former Heisman Trophy winner be?”
That question, or some translation of it, has been mentioned on Cleveland talk radio ever since Manziel was selected as the No. 22 overall pick in May’s draft.
Fans should want their first-round pick to beat out the incumbent, especially when the returning starter has spent nearly all of his career as a back-up who wasn’t even drafted.
But there’s something errantly wrong with calling Hoyer a journeyman, as Tony Grossi pointed out on in a recent ESPN Cleveland podcast.
Hoyer never got the chance to fail at either one of his NFL stops, because he never had much of a chance to prove himself. He never played himself out of a job, because he never was on the field long enough to accumulate much film.
Hoyer backed up one of the best quarterbacks of this generation in Tom Brady for three seasons before New England cut the Michigan State product in 2012. Ryan Mallett was waiting to assume his role as Brady’s No. 2 and Hoyer had already staved off the third-round pick in 2011. The team obviously felt like it could move forward with Mallett.
Hoyer stayed sharp by practicing with his old high school team with the hope the NFL would come calling…and it did. Almost four months after he was cut by the Patriots, Hoyer was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The stop in Pittsburgh meant backing up Charlie Batch during Weeks 12 and 13 of the 2012 season. When Ben Roethlisberger returned from an injury, Hoyer was deemed expendable. The Steelers needed a lift in the secondary and released less Hoyer less than a month after he initially signed. It was a move they’d soon regret (more on this soon).
Two days later, Hoyer signed with the Arizona Cardinals, who were starting a guy named Ryan Lindley before Hoyer came aboard. It didn’t take long for the Cardinals to recognize Hoyer was superior. The North Olmsted, Ohio native signed with the Caridnals on Dec. 10, 2012, and 13 days later, was playing against the Bears. The next week, he started the season finale.
Hoyer played in a game-and-half during the 2012 campaign, and lost both contests he played in. In that small sample size in the desert, Hoyer was 30-of-53 for 330 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
So, about those Steelers?
Pittsburgh wanted to re-sign Hoyer following the 2012 season, but couldn’t because Arizona placed a second-round tender on him in March 2013. Teams were quarterback hungry, and the Cardinals were hoping to bank a draft pick off Hoyer being a still relatively unknown commodity.
The Pittsburgh Post’s Gazette’s Ed Bouchette wrote this about the Steelers botching the Hoyer transaction:
"The quarterback the Steelers really wanted was Brian Hoyer and they let him slip through their hands. If Arizona had not put a second-round tender on him as an RFA, the Steelers were going to try to sign him. However, they had him on their team when they signed him Nov. 20 to the 53-man roster after the injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich. They released him on Dec. 8 so they could add Josh Victorian from the practice squad. That was a mistake, and they know it. Bruce Arians also must have known how much they wanted him back by placing the second-round tender on him. Hoyer signed that tender this week."
The Steelers weren’t the only ones who balked at giving Arizona a draft pick for Hoyer’s services. The Browns did too. Every team in the league said, “No thanks.”
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It was a good business move by Arizona, but nobody bit. Hoyer was released in May 2013, which cleared his way to sign with the Browns as unrestricted free agent.
So here we are again with Hoyer. Nobody definitively knows how good he can actually be. The sample-size is small, but even the most conservative football fan would have to acknowledge he’s a competent quarterback. It took just two games for Hoyer to show he was miles ahead of Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell.
It’s still laughable that Hoyer is criticized for throwing three interceptions in his debut start against the Vikings. Forget the fact he also threw three touchdowns, with the final score coming with 51 seconds on the clock. When the money was on the line, Hoyer was there to pay the bill.
Forget about calling Hoyer a journeyman, or a game manager, because he’s neither. Hoyer’s confident enough to gamble on his future earnings by not signing an extension.
We know he’s got a decent enough arm, a quick release, smarts and leadership ability. But we don’t if he can win and stay on the field for 16 games. Hoyer’s the biggest question mark going in the NFL, and his ceiling could know no limit.