Several of the Bears’ options at quarterback for 2017 – they have, unofficially, somewhere between 10 to 15 – involve veteran Brian Hoyer being re-signed, an interim solution for a team with an empty developmental pipeline but expected to be moving on from the largely failed Jay Cutler Era.
But what if they can’t get Hoyer?
The Bears may find themselves in a situation not entirely dissimilar from where they stood in the 2014 offseason and were faced with a decision on Josh McCown after his career-best stretch in relief of Cutler. Then-GM Phil Emery wanted Cutler over the feelings of the coaching staff and signed Cutler to that $126 million contract. McCown’s price rose to eventually $5 million per season and the organization went in another direction with Jimmy Clausen.
McCown is back on the market after his release this month by the Cleveland Browns. He would be cheaper than Hoyer but is also 37 and possibly headed for a coaching job rather than back under center.
The conventional sense has been that Hoyer will be back with Chicago after his dramatic burst of four straight 300-yard games before going down for the year with a broken arm suffered at Green Bay. And he very well could be. Agent Joe Linta has some positive history with the Bears (Hoyer, Vlad Ducasse, Jim Miller) and the Bears offer Hoyer a starting job, at least in the near term after his interception-free run of 200 passes last season. Hoyer was a locker-room fit and arguably the best option not only as a veteran starter, but also a quality mentor/teammate for young quarterbacks with the organization’s goal of replacing him.
But Hoyer took a visit with the New York Jets last offseason and the Jets have youth (Christian Hackenberg, Bryce Petty) in training, with a short-term opening ahead of them. The Dallas Cowboys are even deeper in a true win-now mode behind Dak Prescott, and Dallas isn’t expected to keep Tony Romo as Prescott’s (very expensive) backup. Hoyer is a topic within both organizations, although the Cowboys do not offer Hoyer a shot at starting even on an interim basis.
The Jets just hired Jeremy Bates as their new quarterbacks coach, the same Bates who worked with Cutler as Denver QB coach in the latter’s Pro Bowl 2008 season, and later (2012) in Chicago. But ESPN’s Rich Cimini reported that the Jets are not in the Cutler market. However, Jets coach Todd Bowles has a known preference for a veteran, Bowles is now under job pressure after a disastrous 5-11 season in 2016 and the Jets were considered more likely to lean toward Hoyer than Cutler, anyway.
But back to the Bears...
The injury riddled outcome of the season makes any projection beyond mediocrity appear laughable in hindsight. But the Bears’ signing of Hoyer last offseason, to a one-year deal worth $2 million, was a statement that the Bears believed they were in a win-now mode in addition to the rebuilding process that, frankly, every NFL team does in some degree every offseason.
Hoyer is a quality veteran, the kind of quarterback signed as a backup only amid serious expectations. Otherwise, the pipeline behind Jay Cutler is filled with youth, beginning in the draft, which the Bears didn’t do. Connor Shaw was in fact “the promising young guy” in development, a decision that was looking good right up until Shaw broke his leg late in the third preseason game.
Shaw will be back, and presumably he will be joining a depth chart that will include a drafted QB. The early handicapping here is Clemson’s Deshaun Watson but this is way too early to start making mock draft picks. Plenty of time for those.
But the name at the top of the depth chart, best case scenario, has been and is Hoyer. The problem is, the Bears’ may not be the only ones holding a door open for Hoyer.