The Browns Should Re-sign Brian Hoyer-But Not Yet
By Joe Zevchek
What do the Cleveland Browns do about their “good” problem?
There simply is no answer yet.
When Brian Hoyer “bet on himself” this offseason by not signing a contract extension, he obviously made a smart choice. So far this year, he has mostly continued to display the traits that caused fans, coaches and a certain former general manager to be so enamored with him: smart play, leadership, a quick release, and ability to quickly grasp schemes and read opposing defenses. He does have his issues, such as occasionally questionable arm strength, forcing the ball into tight windows or making otherwise head-scratching throws, and no one is soon to mistake him for Russell Wilson when he scrambles.
Should we pay Hoyer $50 million plus when he may end up just flaming out?
But what is undeniable is that the good outweighs the bad. Hoyer currently holds an 8-3 record in games he has started and completed for the Browns, and when looking back at the 2014 season so far and comparing it to last year, most would agree that solid quarterback play has been the difference so far in why we now lead the division instead of sitting in the basement once again.
Of course, this wouldn’t be the Browns if all this success didn’t occur with a proverbial shadow lurking over the situation: One John Paul Manziel. Johnny Manziel, the most hyped (and polarizing) player to come out of college in recent memory, is seen by his supporters as the dynamic playmaker who would lead the Browns back to relevance. He certainly displayed some of those dynamics in the preseason, but made typical rookie mistakes with some of his reads and did not do enough to unseat Hoyer as the incumbent.
So far, the Browns have become relevant with Manziel playing only a few snaps as an ineffective decoy in the first few weeks. By all accounts he’s accepted his role as a backup with humility and been a good teammate and good study. Regardless of what Manziel says, any frustration he may feel should be expected, and welcome. All players should want to play. It’s what their paid for. Accepting your role and being humble is one thing-being content on the bench is an unacceptable attitude.
South Bound & Down
The last time the Browns faced a similar situation was 2007, when Derek Anderson, another career backup brought in from the GM’s former team, was picked over rookie first-round pick Brady Quinn to start week 2. After hanging over 50 points on the Bengals in a thrilling shootout victory, Anderson would go on to start the rest of the year and lead the Browns to their first winning season since 2002. The front office quickly signed Anderson to a big contract extension.
We all know what happened next season- Anderson’s performance declined, and in a desperation move, he was benched in favor of Quinn, who fared no better, and after splitting starting duties in 2009 they were both released the following offseason.
So, the fair question to ask is: is this situation any different? Should we pay Hoyer $50 million plus when he may end up just flaming out? Jared has a very nice comparison to the Matt Cassel situation in New England and Kansas City here to show how these situations can go downhill quickly.
First, while time will be the ultimate test, Hoyer is a better quarterback with Anderson. Anderson lived off of his strong arm and ability to fling it deep and over the middle to very athletic receivers. But in crunch time, his decision making came into question and he become known to throw interceptions in clutch situations. Hoyer, meanwhile, is having a lot of success with a group of castoffs, players past their prime, and undrafted rookies. He actually plays better in tough situations and shows the moxie to complete passes when needed. He has more pro experience than Anderson had at this point, and frankly, sitting behind Tom Brady for a few years couldn’t have hurt. Anderson never had such an opportunity. But the question remains: how much is too much to pay?
Luckily, recent contract extensions signed by Colin Kapernick of the 49ers and Andy Dalton of the Bengals provide a very nice template. Hoyer hasn’t taken a team to the playoffs for 3 straight years like Dalton or to a Super Bowl like Kapernick, so it’s not exactly an apples to apples comparison, but the structure of those contracts could guide the Browns. I won’t get into the numbers themselves but essentially each one allows the team to opt out without guaranteeing a large amount of money to the player that would count against the salary cap. Like others believe, I’d say the Browns should pursue a similar situation. I think a 3 year deal with a club option for a 4th would be perfect. Guarantee the first 2 years for around $30 million, tops. This gives the Browns plenty of time to see if Hoyer can get them over the top and to the Super Bowl without much liability. If he can, he’d be considered a franchise quarterback and signing him to another extension should be relatively easy. If not, the Browns can release him or let him walk after the 3rd or 4th year without a huge loss.
The unknown is what might occur with Manziel during this time. Sitting and continuing to learn wouldn’t hurt and the Browns could potentially have a franchise QB in waiting, a la Aaron Rodgers. If Manziel becomes dissatisfied with being a backup, then potential trade partners could be sought. He has done nothing to this point to make anyone think that he COULDN’T play at a high level in the NFL, and the intrigue with his talent would keep his value high. Recouping at least a first round pick shouldn’t be a challenge, especially for a team like desperate to find the answer or with a GM already in love with Manziel and facing possible quarterback issues (yes, we’re looking in your direction, Dallas). Some think he WILL need to be traded, but the best option is to hold onto every card in your hand until you know which one will trump.
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Of course, the unknowns in this situation are innumerable. Hoyer could blow out his repaired knee and never play again. He may decide that he indeed WON’T play on the same team with Manziel, He might completely melt down and become ineffective. Or he could simply leave a game with a bruise, and Manziel could come in, look like the second coming of Brett Favre, and no one will look back. In the end, we don’t know what Manziel will be as a pro, but so far Ray Farmer‘s drafting looks solid and that alone gives reason to have confidence in Manziel’s ability to play at this level.
What is known is this-the Browns appear to likely be on the way to their first winning season in over half a decade. To part ways with the quarterback who got you there is beyond ludacris. The Browns need to wait until the end of the season to see if any concerns are confirmed or proven wrong, but a new deal for Hoyer should and likely will be sought.
This isn’t about Hoyer vs. Manziel. I for one am as excited to see what Johnny Football can do in his league as I am to see how far the Browns can go with Hoyer playing as well as he has. This is about what’s best for the Cleveland Browns. Good, or at least competent, QB play is precious in this league. Right now the Browns have it and they need to hold onto it until it’s over.