The Patriots have been more than happy with Brian Hoyer as their lone backup quarterback for the last two seasons, but is he the long-term answer to replace Tom Brady when the day comes that the greatest player in franchise history retires?
The Packers pulled off that feat with perfection. As ugly as it got when they moved on from Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers clearly proved that he was worthy of a first-round selection in 2005. At that point, Favre still had six more seasons in him, but the Packers decided Rodgers was capable of handling the starting job after three years as Favre’s backup. Just three seasons later, Rodgers won his first Super Bowl as Favre retired for good.
Two decades ago, the 49ers experienced similar success when they promoted Steve Young in 1991 to fill in for an injured Joe Montana. Young was drafted by the Buccaneers in 1984 and traded to San Francisco in 1987 before he waited a few years for his opportunity. Four years after taking the starting job, Young won his first Super Bowl while Montana retired after two years with the Chiefs.
Other teams have experienced recent success while drafting for the future. The Chargers took Philip Rivers with the fourth pick in 2004, and they promoted him in 2006 after sending Drew Brees to the Saints in a trade that worked out for all sides.
The Falcons drafted Matt Schaub in the third round of 2004, and after playing well in spot duty for an injured Michael Vick, Schaub was sent to Houston for a package of draft picks. The Eagles are on the verge of doing the same thing with Kevin Kolb, a second-rounder in 2007 who was set to replace Donovan McNabb in 2010 but lost his job to Vick. When the NFL reaches a new collective-bargaining agreement, Kolb might be on the first flight out of Philly.
So, the question remains, should the Patriots follow suit and use one of their high picks on a quarterback in the 2011 draft? All of the top-rated quarterbacks in this class have question marks, which makes them ideal candidates to sit on the bench for awhile. It’s not like the last three drafts, when every first-round quarterback — except for Tim Tebow, who progressed quicker than expected in Denver — was expected to take over the franchise right away, and that’s how it went down with Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco.
Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert and Auburn’s Cam Newton should be off the board by the time the Patriots have their first pick, but they might have an opportunity to take Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, Washington’s Jake Locker or Florida State’s Christian Ponder at Nos. 28 or 33.
Of course, the Patriots have more pressing needs on the offensive and defensive lines and outside linebacker, and if they decide to draft for luxury, it would make more sense to go after a running back, wide receiver or cornerback than a quarterback who will enter camp as a third-stringer.
Then, there’s Hoyer, who has developed more quickly than Matt Cassel, according to head coach Bill Belichick, and has earned the trust of his teammates, particularly by leading practice in 2010 during Brady’s injury-related absences. In a worst-case scenario for the Patriots, Hoyer should have the ability to keep the offense on a functional level.
Yet, Hoyer is only under contract through 2011, so the Patriots are going to have to address his situation sooner than later. Hoyer likes New England, and he genuinely cherishes the opportunity to learn under Brady and Belichick.
But Hoyer has also seen a completely unproven Charlie Whitehurst sign an $8 million, two-year deal with the Seahawks, and if another team — there are plenty of them without quality starting quarterbacks — wants to give Hoyer that type of money and the opportunity to earn a starting job, he’d be foolish to turn it down.
Brady is signed through 2014 — and he’s said he wants to play beyond that — and Hoyer will turn 30 during the 2015 season. That age factor is something both Hoyer and the Patriots will need to address when each party decides what is best for themselves.
Because of that, it might be irresponsible to think Hoyer will be the Patriots’ quarterback in the post-Brady era, but there’s also nothing that says they have to groom one guy for that job. That’s why the Patriots have continued to groom a series of young quarterbacks. Guys like Cassel and Hoyer have worked out for their role, while Kevin O’Connell, Matt Gutierrez and Zac Robinson have been weeded out.
Think about one other thing, too. Brady was a sixth-round pick, while Cassel was a seventh-rounder and Hoyer was undrafted — by the way, Kurt Warner is the only undrafted quarterback in history to win a Super Bowl — so Belichick’s track record indicates he won’t be very inclined to use a high pick while thinking of life after Brady.
It’s something the Patriots will have to address at some point, but they don’t have to find Brady’s replacement in the 2011 draft.
Should the Patriots use one of their early 2011 draft picks on a quarterback, or do you believe Brian Hoyer is their quarterback of the future? Leave your thoughts below.