As the Browns prepare for perhaps their biggest game against the Steelers since the only postseason appearance for the reconstituted Cleveland franchise (which consisted of a shootout loss at Heinz Field), an unpleasant chapter in franchise history could soon be repeating itself.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer is playing well enough to force the Browns to give him serious consideration for the starting job in 2015. Which would mean keeping Johnny Manziel on the bench.
It won’t be easy, or cheap, to keep Hoyer. Hoyer is due to become a free agent after the season. And with each passing week in which he demonstrates a considerable degree of passing proficiency, Hoyer gains more and more leverage.
So far, Hoyer’s health and performance have vindicated his decision to rebuff the team’s effort to sign him to a new contract prior to the season. Per a league source, the Browns offered Hoyer backup money. Hoyer, via agent Joe Linta, countered with something considerably higher than that.
Linta said in late June that Hoyer’s value won’t be known until November 1 at the earliest. Come November 1, however, the Browns may not be ready to make a financial commitment that necessarily would make Hoyer the starter in 2015.
That’s the ultimate challenge for the Browns. As Hoyer’s value increases, a decision to re-sign him to money reflecting his potential market value means he’ll be the starter in 2015. Which sets the stage for another Derek Anderson-Brady Quinn controversy in Cleveland.
Hoyer-Manziel could be very different than Anderson-Quinn. Anderson was presumably holding the spot in 2007 after Charlie Frye was dumped following a Week One blowout loss (to the Steelers, of course). It was widely believed that Anderson would be benched as soon as Quinn, who had held out for much of training camp, was ready. So Anderson knew he’d eventually be getting the hook, which tends to make a quarterback not worry about getting the hook. Which, as former NFL quarterbacks will explain, allows a guy to play better.
Anderson played well enough to take the team to a 10-6 record and the brink of the playoffs.
Come 2008, Anderson (who re-signed as a restricted free agent) had something to lose. And lose it he eventually did.
Hoyer, in contrast, already has displayed on a consistent basis the ability to perform while knowing that his job is on the line. Hoyer won an open competition with Manziel. Likewise, Hoyer has performed well enough to continue to keep Manziel on the bench.
Indeed, Hoyer has been playing incredibly well. Hoyer nearly brought the Browns back from a 27-3 deficit in Pittsburgh, he led the Browns to a late win over the Saints, he nearly knocked off the Ravens, and then he authored the greatest road comeback in NFL history, erasing a 28-3 deficit in Tennessee. If Manziel had done those things, it’s all anyone in the national media would be talking about.
Come January if not sooner, the Browns need to be talking about what they plan to do with Hoyer. If he leads them to the second playoff appearance since the Browns returned to the league in 1999, it becomes impossible to let him walk away.
And walk away he would. Hoyer told PFT Live last month that, despite his intense desire to play for his hometown team, he’d definitely want to start somewhere else instead of being a backup with the Browns. Before the Browns let him go, they need to be sure that they believe Manziel can do the things Hoyer already has done — especially if there’s a chance Hoyer could end up doing those things to the Browns.