Brian Hoyer is like the guy who went into the clubhouse down two strokes and ended up atop the leader board.
An afterthought since he suffered a season-ending broken arm against the Packers, the 30-year-old Hoyer’s efficiency in five games as the Bears’ starting quarterback is looking pretty good with Jay Cutler’s future with the Bears in doubt and Matt Barkley faltering after a promising start in place of Cutler.
Hoyer threw six touchdowns and zero interceptions in 200 attempts this season for a 98.0 passer rating. Barkley threw eight touchdown passes and 14 interceptions— including seven picks in the last two games —for a 68.3 rating in six starts. The other quarterbacks on the roster are Connor Shaw and David Fales.
“I’m realistic. I know what my status is,” Hoyer said when asked if he’s looking for a starting job in free agency this offseason. “But I also know what I’m capable of doing. You kind of take all of that into consideration.
“But my comfort level here with the coaches, having had the chance to play — I hope it’s something I can be a part of. Ideally, you’d love to be in the same system two years in a row. That is something I would love to be able to do. Sometimes that is out of your control.”
Especially after Aaron Rodgers did it again — virtually willing the Packers to a six-game winning streak that took them from third place in the NFC North to the division title and an eighth consecutive playoff berth — general manager Ryan Pace’s top priority in the offseason couldn’t be more clear: He better get the quarterback right.
After a 3-13 season in which Cutler regressed and then suffered another injury, the Bears enter the offseason with more uncertainty at quarterback than they’ve had since acquiring Cutler in 2009.
With the guaranteed portion of Cutler’s seven-year, $126 million contract out of the way — and Cutler unable to build on his 2016 success under Adam Gase — the Bears are expected to start over at quarterback, with either a high draft pick or a less-expensive mentor/stop-gap as the starter in 2017.
It’s a huge decision for Pace as he enters a critical season for the franchise after back-to-back records of 6-10 and 3-13 since being named the Bears’ GM in 2015. If he moves on from Cutler he needs to find a quarterback of the future, but also have the Bears show significant improvement on the field — if not challenge for a playoff spot. Next season could be a tumultuous year at Halas Hall if the Bears continue to struggle under John Fox.
Pace is almost certain to draft a quarterback — perhaps with the No. 3 overall pick or elsewhere in the first round —after not taking one in his first two drafts. He can sign a free agent or trade for a promising young quarterback such as the Patriots’ Jimmy Garoppolo. Until that happens, it’s likely that Hoyer, Barkley and Shaw — maybe two of those three — will battle a rookie for the starting job in training camp.
As the veteran of the group, Hoyer would arguably be the best fit as a mentor to a rookie quarterback.
“I kind of did that with Johnny [Manziel] in Cleveland,” Hoyer said. “I’m a good teammate. I’ve been around. I have a lot to offer in that regard. But I really have a lot of confidence that playing in these four [full] games here really re-emphasized that for me — just proving to myself I’m good enough to play in this league.
Barkley had his chance to take the lead in that competition with a strong finish following impressive performances against the 49ers, Lions and Packers. But he slumped in the final two games against the Redskins (two touchdowns, five interceptions, 62.8) and Vikings (no touchdowns, two interceptions, one fumble, 59.2).
“I definitely want to be here,” Barkley said. “I want to be with this staff, these players. There’s definitely something special brewing here. Hopefully I can be a part of that.”
Despite the poor finish, Barkley still came a long way this season after starting on the practice squad in Week 1. He learned a lot.
“The more looks you can see on defense, the more ingrained in your head certain plays become,” he said. “The more you get within an offense, the more that terminology comes in your head. Just the fact that I can play. I can hang in this league. I did a lot of great things.”