By: Ethan Fuller
Featured image courtesy of Mark Zaleski/Associated Press
When the Patriots handed out a one-year contract to 34-year-old Brian Hoyer on Sunday, the forgotten child of Tom Brady backups committed to his third stint up north.
Most fans understood the logic: bring in a quarterback who understands Bill Belichick’s system and competes without bringing a spotlight. Hoyer should be the emergency blanket while he teaches Jarrett Stidham or whoever the heir to Brady becomes. If a quarterback competition emerges, that’s fine — as long as Hoyer doesn’t win.
But what if he does? What if Brian Hoyer trots out as the head signal-caller for Patriots’ first Brady-less season this millennium? What if the boring, old, undrafted veteran — the gold standard of journeyman quarterbacks — outworks everyone else?
Do not be afraid, New England. Your season is in good hands.
Brian Hoyer, Sans-Patriots
A perennial placeholder for the Pats, Hoyer has thrown 51 career passes across five seasons wearing the Flying Elvis. Instead of judging him on his work with New England, we have to see what he’s been up to in his six-plus years away from Foxboro.
Brian Hoyer has held down the fort for six other teams: the Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts. But the bulk of his starts came between 2014-2016, when Hoyer suited up for the Browns, Texans and Bears in each respective year. This is the best place to look at what a prime Hoyer can do, as he was given extended runs of the season without being traded or released.
Let’s start with the Browns. In his second season for one of the worst franchises in sports, Brian Hoyer led Cleveland to a 6-3 start while missing star receiver Josh Gordon. While fans hungered for any reason to put Johnny Manziel in the game, Brian Hoyer was actually winning.
Then the wheels fell off two weeks later. Hoyer went through a three-game stretch where he threw zero touchdowns against seven interceptions. Not coincidentally, Josh Gordon also came back in the first game of this stretch. I went back and watched every single interception. Three were intended for Gordon and the two clearly did not communicate well. One was a tipped pass, and the others were simply horrendous throws. The last game, Week 15 against Buffalo, saw Hoyer succumb to Johnny Football mania.
From an outsider’s perspective, frustration on top of pressure may have been what rattled Hoyer enough to lose his job. But the undrafted QB still threw for over 3300 yards in 14 games and was on pace to sniff 4000 before the crashing and burning. Had Cleveland stuck with their winner through the slump, Brian Hoyer could have genuinely helped the team to the playoffs.
In 2015, Hoyer moved to a Texans squad that featured a loaded defense but a quarterback situation in flux. He missed four games with an ankle injury and went 5-4 as the starting quarterback, throwing 19 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Hoyer played the most between himself, T.J. Yates and Ryan Mallett, and pushed Houston to the playoffs. But in the spotlight, Hoyer crumbled, throwing four picks in a Wild Card loss to Kansas City.
But then the journeyman rebounded in Chicago. The Bears were a decrepit team, and they went just 1-4 at with Hoyer at the helm. But it was not his fault; Hoyer completed 67 percent of his passes in those five games and didn’t throw an interception. Then he broke his arm in Week 7 and missed the rest of the season.
Based on these three years, it’s easy to accuse Hoyer of collapsing under pressure. At the same time, he inarguably played well for three franchises that were in various stages of ineptitude. None of these fan bases wanted Hoyer to be their quarterback, but he came in and produced each year.
Removing that stunning three-game implosion from 2014, Brian Hoyer threw for 37 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions. Not bad for a guy who carried little value.
Why He Fits Now
Four years later and Hoyer has fallen to a backup role after uninspiring stints with the Niners and Colts. In 2020 he gets a real shot at a starting gig, and not just with a system he knows.
Hoyer returns to the best, most consistent franchise he’s ever played for. While much of that consistency stemmed from Tom Brady, the Patriot Way and the franchise’s culture should remain intact as long as Bill Belichick hangs around. Unlike his last two runs with NE, however, Hoyer has a chance to actually play meaningful football.
The veteran joins an offense that was loaded with questions even before Brady departed. Is N’Keal Harry ready? How much does Julian Edelman have left? Will the offensive line ever be truly reliable? Is Sony Michel legit? Why was James White underutilized? Who are the tight ends again?
New England faces a level of offensive scrutiny unparalleled in the last twenty years. Jarrett Stidham, or an incoming rookie, would be faced with intense pressure to carry the torch of dominance. They have to be the next great Patriots quarterback, and the rabid regional fans, as well as national viewers, would analyze their every throw.
But a middling veteran would dim the spotlight. Hoyer brings stability. At 34, the QB is well past his prime, but he can still sling a football and bring a wealth of experience. He knows how to win where winning is not supposed to happen, and he knows how to win where it’s expected every Sunday.
Few would expect New England to contend behind a quarterback with one playoff dud to his name. But Brian Hoyer has performed when he was supposed to roll over. With his best opportunity ever and a track record of surprising success, Hoyer can be the short-term protégé the Pats have been looking for.