If Brian Hoyer takes a meaningful snap in 2021 for the Patriots, something went terribly wrong. You know it. I know it. Brian Hoyer knows it.
Hoyer’s return, news of which popped Monday night, is for one vital reason. To give tutelage. Who’s he gonna tute? The first-round quarterback, Mac Jones. Our man Phil Perry hit on the Hoyer re-signing as well, laying out some of the reasons it came down Monday night.
But what intrigues me is what Hoyer coming back means for Cam Newton. Or, more specifically, what it says about the projected role of Newton in the development of Jones.
I know what you’re thinking. You guys got multiple stories on the Hoyer re-signing? Why don’t you guys just put out a special section fer crissake. How about this. It’s May. Leave us alone.
Understand it’s far too early to say with any certainty what the Patriots quarterback depth chart will look like in September. And Hoyer, who sunk roots in Foxboro, was in the Patriots' plans before Jones was even drafted.
But now that Jones is in the fold, Hoyer’s 2020 role as emergency backup/seasoned pro “in the room” will morph a little. He’s going to be asked to pour his brain into Jones’ ears.
This is something the Patriots have done all over their roster through the years and not just at quarterback. Junior Seau filled the role for the linebackers in the late aughts. Alge Crumpler was signed in 2010 and quickly became the Yoda for Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as tight ends.
Make no mistake, Hoyer re-signed with the Patriots in 2020 with designs on starting. He was promised a chance to compete with Jarrett Stidham before Newton was signed in late June. Hoyer actually started camp taking most of the early reps and performed well in the first days.
But when he flagged a little and Stidham got hurt, Newton nudged ahead. And the landscape became apparent. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound former MVP Newton who could run the ball might be a better option in a run-heavy offense than the cerebral, accurate but undersized, aging and not-very-strong-armed Hoyer.
Hoyer got thrown into the cauldron against the Chiefs in Week 4. He had one of the worst performances of his career, got benched, then got buried behind Stidham on the depth chart. And there he stayed even though the performances of both Newton and Stidham during the rest of the season had plenty of people wondering at various points if Hoyer might not be able to make the offense look at least competent.
Now, it’s vastly different. The Patriots have an array of talent at tight end and wide receiver that just wasn’t there last season. And they have a rookie quarterback they are hoping can turn into a 10-year answer at the position. Two of the prime goals for this season will be competing for the division title (and more) and prepping Jones to be that answer.
Newton may figure in satisfying the first goal. It’s less likely he’ll be valuable in satisfying the second.
First, Newton is -- by his own admission -- still learning the Patriots offense. Without an offseason or full training camp last year and because of COVID, Newton never got the full immersion treatment.
Newton might be able to tell Jones and Stidham plenty about leadership, professionalism, time management, life in the league or other team’s defensive tendencies or personnel. But as far as running the New England offense as it was from 2000 through 2019? Not so much. Newton ran an offense last season with a far different focus than what even Stidham ran.
Second, Newton is hanging onto his NFL career by a cuticle. At least his role as a starter. Bill Belichick bucks Newton up every chance he gets because Belichick’s sympathetic to the fact Newton is inevitably going to feel like the rug is slowly being pulled out from under him. Newton is happy to hand out nicknames, tousle everyone’s hair and be the big brother when it’s clear to everyone he’s the lead dog.
Expecting him to shepherd Jones into the starting role? To grease the skids for himself? When he played for peanuts last year and isn’t going to make much more than that this year? That would be asking a lot of a player who is very sure he’s still got it.
What we don’t know right now is whether Newton is the fail-safe. Is he the fallback plan as the 2021 starter if Jones (or Stidham) doesn’t make a summertime leap? Or do the Patriots fully expect him to flourish in Year 2 in the system with better players around him and beat back any challenge from a wet-behind-the-ears rookie from Alabama?
Signing Hoyer doesn’t mean Cam is on the clock. Newton’s on a one-year deal with a low salary and the Patriots just spent a first rounder on a quarterback. He already was on the clock. But the clock could be speeding up.