The New England Patriots signed Brian Hoyer to be the back-up quarterback for the next three years and the San Francisco 49ers are footing the bill. Hoyer doesn’t have the same upside as Jimmy Garoppolo, the player he’s replacing on the Patriots roster, but he does offer plenty of value as the ideal veteran back-up quarterback.
Tom Brady isn’t retiring after this year and that provides the Patriots with some time to develop another young quarterback. Hoyer gives New England that time by providing perfectly average production if he needs to step into the line-up until that young prospect is discovered, developed, and ready to play.
Over the past three seasons, Hoyer has been the epitome of an average quarterback. While he wasn’t a superhuman able to turn around the hapless Cleveland Browns franchise in 2013 and 2014, he did lead the Browns to a 10-6 record in his 16 starts. He completed 56% of his passes for 3,941 yards, 17 touchdowns ,and 16 interceptions, with a passer rating of 77.6.
Not good production, by any means, but when it’s the Browns you take what you can get. Since the start of the 2013 season, all other Cleveland quarterbacks combine for a 5-51 record. Now quarterback record isn’t a good metric for how they actually performed on the field, but he also has the best adjusted net yards per attempt for the Browns over that period. He’s been the best Cleveland was able to field.
But since Hoyer escaped the Browns, he’s been a pretty good quarterback to have. If you combine his stints with the Houston Texans (2015), Chicago Bears (2016), and San Francisco 49ers (2017), he’s been a league average quarterback despite a revolving door of playbooks and teammates.
Over 20 starts in 23 appearances across the past three seasons, Hoyer has completed 477 of 774 attempts (61.6%) for 5,296 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions with a passer rating of 88.5. That is not elite production, but it is perfectly average.
Pro Football Reference has a nifty metric that compares a quarterback’s production to others in that era or season. If a quarterback scores a 100, then they were league-average in that stat over the defined period of time. A score greater than 100 implies better than league-average production; a score below 100 implies worse than league-average play.
Over the past three years, no quarterback has been better than Tom Brady, who has an advanced passer rating (rate+) of 124, implying that he was 1.6 standard deviations better than the average quarterback.
Hoyer ties Colts QB Andrew Luck with a score of 99, right below Giants QB Eli Manning and Jets QB Josh McCown at 100, and right above Dolphins QB Jay Cutler at 97. That makes Hoyer pretty close to average; he comes in below average for completion rate and touchdowns, but he avoids turning the football over.
If the Patriots are able to hold a league-average quarterback as their back-up, then they’ll still be better than roughly half the league if Hoyer ever has to play. And remember that’s Hoyer’s production is limited by some pretty bad coaching and supporting casts, so he could be even better with the Patriots.
When you remove Hoyer’s time with the (0-8) 49ers, he had a rate+ of 106, right in line with Raiders QB Derek Carr and Vikings QB Sam Bradford. I would suspect Hoyer to be capable of similar production in New England.
And other metrics support this, too. In 2015, Hoyer ranked 20th out of 37 quarterbacks in DVOA at -3.0%, implying he was 3.0% below average. He ranked 7th out of 34 quarterbacks in DVOA in 2016 with a +19.4% in his limited time, but came crashing down with the 49ers in 2017, ranking 28th of 33 quarterbacks with a -20.1% DVOA.
Hoyer also has a Pro Football Focus grade of 71.0 out of 100, ranking 27th of 34 quarterbacks in the NFL for 2017, but falling in the “average” tier. In 2016 he graded out as 82.1 out of 100 and was considered “above average.”
Hopefully Hoyer will never have to see the field in New England, but if he is capable of performing in that average-to-above-average tier with the Patriots, then the roster should be able to stay afloat if Brady misses a week or two of time.
The Patriots are paying Hoyer the veteran’s minimum to serve as the back-up for 2017 and 2018, which is what most veteran third-string quarterbacks receive to be the 53rd man on a lot of rosters. Players in Hoyer’s range of quality usually receive between 4-to-6 times the money on the open market than what the Patriots are paying.
Hoyer can be a league-average quarterback in a pinch and he’s playing for pennies. What more could you want in a back-up?