The Browns want to lock up homegrown quarterback Brian Hoyer for the long term before he enters the final season of his contract.
It won’t be easy.
The Browns are trying to sign Hoyer to a contract extension, ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported Monday, citing sources. Hoyer, a North Olmsted native and St. Ignatius graduate, is set to make $1 million in 2014, the second year of a two-year deal.
The hurdle that could prevent the completion of a deal is the uncertain status of Cleveland’s quarterback situation. Rookie coach Mike Pettine said Hoyer will enter training camp with a lead in the competition for the starting job, but Johnny Manziel, the No. 22 draft pick and most popular rookie in the league, will get a legitimate shot.
“Brian is securely ahead of him right now, but we will compete and we will decide,” Pettine said last month. “I don’t think it’s insurmountable.”
The Browns surely feel comfortable with Hoyer, at the minimum, as the backup and are willing to pay him as such. The holdup would be that Hoyer views himself as a starter and won’t accept backup money.
Agent Joe Linta told reporters it will be hard to reach a deal at this stage of the year.
“Much more clarity on his situation during the season and certainly after,” Linta told The Gazette in an email.
“It will be a very difficult deal to do,” he told NFL.com, saying he’s had preliminary talks with the Browns. “We’re always open to talking with the Browns, but we’re content to wait and see what happens down the road.”
The best, and possibly only, chance for a deal before the season opener Sept. 7 at Pittsburgh is a load of incentives that would bridge the gap from backup to starter depending on playing time.
Hoyer, 28, got a taste of the starting job last year, and the two-plus-game stint convinced him he can be a success. The Browns won all three games he started — he left in the first quarter of the third start with a torn anterior cruciate ligament — and Hoyer completed 59 percent with five touchdowns, three interceptions and an 82.6 rating. He’s made only one other start in his five NFL seasons.
He made it his mission to recover completely and regain the starting job. The goal didn’t change when Manziel arrived.
Hoyer’s faith in himself might make him willing to give up the security of a long-term deal now for the possibility of a much bigger payday down the road. If Hoyer keeps the starting job and has a successful season, he could demand more from the Browns or another team as an unrestricted free agent.
On the other hand, if he struggles or is overtaken by Manziel, he loses leverage and may have to settle for less than the Browns are offering. An injury is another concern.
“I’ve always kind of thought of myself as the starter and prepared that way because you never know when that opportunity is going to come,” Hoyer said in May. “I’ve said it a million times, this is my hometown. This is where my family’s from, this is where I want to make a difference in this program and this organization. I’ll never shy away from competition.”
Manziel said last week he “absolutely” wants to start but admitted Hoyer’s ahead and he would adjust if he opens his rookie season on the bench.
Manziel’s four-year, $8.25 million contract, including $6.7 million guaranteed — restricted by the league’s rookie wage scale — doesn’t limit the Browns from paying Hoyer starter money if they determine he’s worth it.