Career backup Brian Hoyer may not wind up as the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback in Week 1 of next season, but all indications point to him getting every chance to win the lead job this summer.
The new Browns management, led by general manager Mike Lombardi, jumped on the opportunity to land Hoyer, who was waived by the Arizona Cardinals earlier this week. According to Adam Caplan of Sirius XM Radio, Hoyer agreed to a two-year deal with the Browns Thursday.
The 27-year-old Hoyer now joins a quarterbacking group in Cleveland that consists of a former first-round pick in Brandon Weeden, a veteran coming off a train wreck 2012 season in Jason Campbell and a 25-year-old who made one start for the Browns last season in Thaddeus Lewis.
Weeden, Cleveland's No. 22 overall pick from the 2012 NFL Draft, remains the front runner to start for the new-look Browns in 2013.
But with new faces at head coach (Rob Chudzinski) and offensive coordinator (Norv Turner), and given a first-year general manager who has long been enamored with Hoyer's skill set, the Browns quarterback competition might end up being much more open than originally believed.
According to Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland, who chronicled how Hoyer became a part of the Browns' plans this offseason, Lombardi didn't hide his opinion of Hoyer while he was a part of the media at NFL Network and Hoyer was a backup quarterback in New England.
On air in 2011, per Grossi, Lombardi called Hoyer an NFL starter. He went as far as to say he would have went after Hoyer had he taken the general manager job in San Francisco. He also praised what Hoyer brought to the table in terms of a quarterbacking skill set.
I’ve said this many times: If I would have taken the GM job of the 49ers, I would have gone after Brian Hoyer, because I think he has all the traits and characteristics. If I were the Cleveland Browns, I’d rather have Brian Hoyer behind center than Colt McCoy. I think he’s got all the traits you need, in terms of leadership, toughness, the arm strength, the ability to move the team.
No longer in a position of mere speculation, Lombardi put his money where his mouth is and jumped on the opportunity to get Hoyer to Cleveland. In fact, Lombardi had previously thrown around the idea of dealing for Hoyer while he was still a member of the Cardinals.
Per Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, the Browns considered trading for Hoyer during the NFL draft, but they decided against it in favor of waiting out the Cardinals to waive him. Once Arizona finally did, the Browns pounced, landing Hoyer without any kind of compensation going the Cardinals' way.
While Hoyer now appears to have a legitimate chance to win the job ahead of him, it's worth wondering if he'll be up to the task once the helmets and pads come on.
For as highly as Lombardi has spoke of Hoyer in the past, the former undrafted free agent has thrown only 96 career passes over five NFL seasons. He's started just one game—a Week 17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers last season—and carries a career passer rating of just 72.2.
There has been times in which he flashed ability, including during a few preseasons with the Patriots and in last season's finale. However, starting-quality quarterbacks don't usually bounce around four different teams in the matter of 12 months.
The Patriots were more than comfortable releasing Hoyer during final cuts last September. He then passed through waivers unclaimed, and it took another three months before the Pittsburgh Steelers finally gave him another chance. After the Steelers finally got healthy at quarterback in early December, Hoyer was once again sent through waivers, where the quarterback-starved Cardinals claimed him.
Despite suffering through one of the worst quarterbacking seasons in recent memory in 2012, the Cardinals waived Hoyer on May 13, marking the third time in nine months he'd been waived. The decision was part money (Hoyer was due $2.023 million after Arizona gave him the second-round restricted tender) and part personnel, especially after the Cardinals acquired Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton.
Such a whirlwind of movement wouldn't seem to set up a quarterback to overtake a former first-round pick, even if Weeden has zero ties to the Browns current management.
By the end of training camp, it's very likely that Lombardi's shiny new toy will win a job in Cleveland, but likely as the backup or No. 3 quarterback.
Campbell, who by all accounts was one of the worst quarterbacks to play significant snaps last season, is no lock to the backup. Over three games in which he threw at least five passes, Campbell failed to throw for more than 107 yards. In games against the Houston Texans (replaced Jay Cutler) and 49ers (started), the Campbell-led Bears did not score more than seven points.
However, an early March report from Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said that Campbell will be given a "legitimate shot" to start, claiming that the idea of an open competition at quarterback was more than just "lip service."
If Campbell is being given a real opportunity to win the job, the same will certainly go for Hoyer.
Yet, the expectation remains that Weeden will eventually secure the starting gig. Last year's first-rounder wasn't awful as a rookie, but the new staff will certainly demand improvement over his line of 3,385 yards, 14 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a 72.6 passer rating from last season.
If Weeden does show a step forward, it will leave Campbell, Hoyer and Lewis to workout the backup structure. Hoyer should have every chance to beat out Lewis and stick around in Cleveland.
Still, the newest Browns quarterback should now have his first opportunity to embrace a true quarterback competition.
Hoyer might not beat out Weeden or Campbell in that competition to be Cleveland's starter in Week 1, but Lombardi's affinity for the 27-year-old has provided Hoyer a legitimate chance to win the gig this summer.