The Chicago Bears know firsthand of the perils of backup quarterback play.
In league where talent evaluators cannot identify enough starting quarterback talent to suit all 32 teams, the reserve-quarterback role is often filled by either an untested younger player or an over-the-hill veteran.
In the pre-Cutler era, Lovie Smith used six different quarterbacks from 2004 to 2008 primarily because Rex Grossman kept getting hurt -- Kyle Orton, Brian Griese, Chad Hutchinson, Jonathan Quinn, Craig Krenzel and Grossman.
Jeff Blake attempted nine passes in 2005, but the sample size is too small to include him.
Of the recent group, McCown is the obvious outlier. McCown was terrific both on and off the field in 2013, completing 149-of-224 pass attempts (66.5 percent) for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception -- a 109.0 quarterback rating.
The Bears, however, let McCown walk the next year after locking up Cutler to a monster extension. McCown went to Tampa to be their starter for $4.75 million guaranteed -- Chicago did not make him an offer to return -- and the rest is history. When the roof caved in on Cutler in 2014, the Bears turned to Clausen, who eventually played himself off the roster last year.
The thinking at quarterback is almost backwards. Quarterback is the most important position in football, but the backup spot is often overlooked and underfunded. In a game where depth is routinely tested, and injuries occur weekly, why not pay the guy who protects your most important asset?
Now, the Bears paid Campbell $3.5 million in 2012, but lately the club has gone the route of veteran-minimum salaries for their backup quarterbacks.
To their credit, the Bears just upped the ante when they invested $2 million ($750,000 guaranteed) in veteran Brian Hoyer, who started 22 combined games for Houston and Cleveland the past two seasons. Hoyer is a massive upgrade. Although he bombed in the Texans’ playoff lost to Kansas City, Hoyer passed for 2,606 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 11 regular-season appearances in 2015.
Hoyer also worked with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains for one season in Cleveland.
“We always ask ourselves, ‘What kind of teammate are they? Are they unselfish? Are they for the better of the team?’ Hoyer definitely fits all of those qualities,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. “Talking to Dowell, that quarterback room is a tight-knit room, and you’re always conscious of who you’re putting in there. Hoyer is a really intelligent player. Those guys spend a lot of hours together. So you think about all the film they watch when they’re studying the opponent, and it’s nice to have a guy with that experience and that kind of background to kind of pair with Jay as we’re preparing for opponents.”
Pace added: “You know I do like the idea of having a more experienced backup there. It’s important for that position and it just gives us security going forward. Again, I think it’s key and we talked about it during free agency, I love it when we have familiarity with these guys from coaches. I think it reduces the risk or some of the questions you might have and Dowell was passionate about this player and then watching the tape, I was too. So, I’m glad we got him in the mix.”
The Hoyer move doesn’t have the cache of signing Danny Trevathan, trading Martellus Bennett, or drafting Leonard Floyd ninth overall, but reeling in the veteran quarterback is one of the most important transactions to date in the offseason.
Hoyer eats up only 1.46 percent of the Bears’ overall 2016 salary-cap space, but given recent history the 30-year old quarterback could end up playing a vital role.