Make the Quarterback Race Interesting: Give Hoyer a Worthy Challenger

Bret Rumbeck
Jun 2, 2017 at 5:36 AM

On April 24, 1987, the Bill Walsh traded two draft picks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for quarterback Steve Young. Walsh may have had a multitude of reasons for landing Young, such as Joe Montana's bad back or maybe he saw the talent Young had that the Buccaneers apparently missed. Walsh went as far as benching Montana during the 1987 divisional playoff loss to Minnesota.

The 1988 season started off with Walsh feeding the controversy he started with pure nitroglycerine.

"Well our strength is at quarterback," said Walsh in a television interview on July 31, 1988. "But our problem is we have two. There's a quarterback controversy developing. We're going to have to select between Steve Young and Joe Montana."

Later in the season, Walsh claimed that Montana wasn't playing because "He had a form of dysentery for about 2 weeks," Walsh said. "He lost 11 pounds. From that point on, he was weak. Very weak. He has not been able to throw as much and as well as we would like."

It was a psychologist-gone-mad move from Walsh, and it drove Montana to some of his best years with the 49ers. Montana made back-to-back first team All-Pro in 1989 and 1990 and was named league MVP in 1989.

We saw a similar situation play out at quarterback just a few years ago. Before Jim Harbaugh, Alex Smith had a career record of 19-31. In 2011, whether due to Harbaugh's coaching style or the threat of losing his starting position to rookie Colin Kaepernick, Smith had a career changing year: 13 wins, a huge divisional playoff win against New Orleans and a trip to the NFC Championship game.

What drives success is competition, no matter if it's in the corporate world or on the football field. This year's roster certainly has potential for fierce competition for starting roles, but not at quarterback.

On May 19, head coach Kyle Shanahan, while on the Rich Eisen Show, named Brian Hoyer as the 49ers' starter. "Right now, Brian Hoyer is going to be at the controls."

Hoyer comes to Santa Clara with a 16-15 career record, including ten career wins for the Cleveland Browns. He completes nearly 60-percent of his throws, has 44 touchdown passes and averages 7.2 yards gained per pass attempt. Pro Football Focus gives him an 81.1 ranking coming into this season.

Despite injuries and some time on the bench, Hoyer's shown moments of high-quality play. Through the first ten weeks of the 2014 season, Hoyer had a 10:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and had the Browns off to a 6-3 start. He's perfect for the 49ers this season: a serviceable journeyman quarterback running a familiar offense, with a team not expected to eclipse the .500 mark.

What the 49ers need going into minicamp and the 2017 season is an old fashioned Bill Walsh quarterback controversy. An actual challenge from Matt Barkley and CJ Beathard for the starting role would make Hoyer a better quarterback come September.

But here's the rub: Matt Barkley has had an underwhelming NFL career, and Beathard isn't ready to threaten a veteran for a starting job.

49er fans can feel the dawn of a new sun radiating from 4949 Centennial Boulevard. The team is doing things differently. They've ended the leaks to the media, and they've sought out real talent. Eleven-year veteran Joe Staley stated players have come into the offseason programs with "excitedness – that's not a word – and real vigor."

Even with the new leadership and direction, the 49ers retreated to a Baalke-esque strategy: bring in sub-par talent to fill a critical position. They've done this repeatedly with offensive linemen, and now the symptom is bleeding into the quarterback's spot.

In four professional seasons, Barkley hasn't come anywhere close to being a serviceable backup or legitimately competing for a starting role. While completing 60-percent of his throws, Barkley has eight touchdown passes compared to 18 interceptions. He's only played in 11 games and made six starts. Barkley seems content to be back in the warm California sun, rather than a warrior who wants to destroy the competition and achieve football immortality.

CJ Beathard could be a fantastic draft pick for the 49ers, so long as they can develop him over the next two seasons. Throwing Beathard into the flames of an NFL regular season game is not a wise move. However, I would not be shocked to see him outplay Barkley in the preseason to earn the second-string role on the team.

The 49ers signed undrafted free agent Nick Mullens shortly after the draft. At 6'1, 187 pounds, and scouting reports stating he lacks arm strength, his greatest obstacle is to make the practice squad.

The 49ers are asking other players, such as NaVorro Bowman, to earn first team honors. Last week, regarding Bowman, Shanahan said that "Nobody is locked in at anything." Shanahan went further and said, "It's something you'd actually like to have at every position… That makes the two guys who are out there go a lot harder and play better."

Teams don't have the luxury of having All-Pro players at every position, dashing pure male fury to achieve a seat at the first-team table. Coaches must play the hand dealt, and some spots may lack a real competition. However, in a position that's been inconsistent since 2015, the offense will end up in a better spot, and more prepared for week one, if Shanahan opened the quarterback spot up for a training camp battle.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Paul
    The reason a guy like Barkley was added instead of Fitz is that Barkley still has upside and is younger. If he does well in the system, he can be around for a while. Fitz is old, played bad last year, and doesn't figure to be in the NFL much longer. Also Fitz almost retired a year ago. I see you mention Gabbert. Lol. He wouldn't push Hoyer more than Barkley or CJ. Just because someone has experience as a starter, doesn't mean that they are any good. We know Fitz and Gabbert suck. We don't know if Barkley or CJ suck.
    Jun 2, 2017 at 2:45 PM
    Response: Which is why I removed my section about who to add. For every person I listed, someone could come back and explain why that guy wasn't worthy of a sideline cup of Gatorade. I don't expect much from Barkley, but I am excited to see what Beathard can do.
  • Burt
    I don't see your comment as a response. You call for Shanahan to open the position for a TC battle but state that Barclay, Beathard and Mullens arent it. FIne. So who are you looking to see brought into the frame to compete with Hoyer? Name a name. HOW hard is that? You keep asking for greater competition at the quarterback spot but from who? It is very easy to just complain. How about trying to be constructive? You want QB competition? Don't we all. So who do you have in mind?
    Jun 2, 2017 at 2:10 PM
    Response: Again, as I wrote the piece, I did not feel contemplating the 'what ifs' brought any value. The team has four quarterbacks on the roster, and the reality is they are not adding a fifth. I know I don't enjoy reading speculative sports articles. But, I understand and appreciate your criticism and can improve on pieces like this in the future. Thank you. Fitzpatrick, for example, was on the market the day they signed UDFA Nick Mullens. Fitz is not spectacular, but has experience and would have added to the competition. Even keeping 9-win Blaine Gabbert on for another round would have pushed Hoyer. I'm frustrated with the 49ers continuing to bring in players who are below average. Barkley is a below far below average quarterback, and he worries me if Hoyer goes down. Nobody has any idea what Beathard is going to do when the professional lights are on him. Maybe he'll show up this preseason and blow everyone out of the water, creating a controversy or a tough decision for Shanahan. Thanks for reading.
  • Paul
    Why would they go Fitz? Did you see his most recent tape? And he doesn't know the new system
    Jun 2, 2017 at 12:42 PM
    Response: Why add Barkley then? Fitzgerald is an example of someone they could have added but instead went with Barkley. Hoyer played one year under Shanahan's offense. That was three years ago, and he was 7-6 overall with 12 TDs and 13 INTs. Knowing the system and playing well in a system are two different things. I'm simply asking for greater competition at the quarterback position. It's going to make Hoyer a better starter if he has to earn the spot, rather than getting it awarded to him in May. Thanks for reading and commenting.
  • Tom
    This is the first year of six year contracts for Lynch and Shanahan. It is impossible for them to address all of their needs at once. Hoyer is a bridge QB until he proves otherwise. He'll either step up or not, quite frankly I hardly consider him worth discussing at this point. They brought him in because he knew the system. I'll be a little surprised if he's even with the team in two years. Just more needless hand-wringing from the "experts" at the Webzone
    Jun 2, 2017 at 11:30 AM
    Response: I agree the team cannot address every issue on the roster. If we're going to compete at right guard, then why not open the competition at quarterback as well?
  • mbniner
    There is a very good reason that Hoyer should start. Shanahan is installing a complicated new offense and Hoyer is the only QB on the roster who is familiar with it. It is very important that the rest of the offense learns and executes well and it is much easier if you don't have a QB who is also in the learning mode. Shanahan is building for the future.
    Jun 2, 2017 at 9:45 AM
  • Burt
    So who do you have in mind Bret? I mean, it is easy to call for competition at the QB spot. But at this stage, not so easy to action. Maybe the team are still after Cousins? Right now, though, your piece would have more credibility if you had named some players, or just one, who is available and brings more to the table than Barkley or Beathard.
    Jun 2, 2017 at 9:36 AM
    Response: The 49ers signed Hoyer and Barkley back-to-back. Ryan Fitzpatrick was on the market until just a few weeks ago. Originally, I had this section in a draft but removed it. I wanted to work with what the 49ers had currently, not a situation that doesn't exist. Shanahan could simply open the QB spot up for competition among the players currently on the roster. I think it's a bit much to name a starting quarterback in May when he's yet to take the field.
  • NinerGM
    I like what this article attempts to do but honestly, what QB is available that could actually challenge Hoyer at this stage? If the implication is that we should have drafted a QB high like the Bears, one really thinks that a rookie would be able to seriously challenge a QB who has actually started in a real game in Shanahan's complex offense? What vet was available? Is the implication that we should have traded anything to acquire a QB that's either franchised or under contract? As much as I would love a good ol fashion QB controversy, one has to suggest a plausible scenario for bringing in x player and defending the outcomes of that *specific* player's chances for starting. It's easy to call the other QBs on this team "Baalkee-esque" but the writer doesn't submit his suggested challengers.
    Jun 2, 2017 at 8:02 AM
    Response: I don't agree with naming a starting quarterback in May. Fitzpatrick was on the market until just a few weeks ago, and he might have made this a better competition.
  • Jaxinsac
    So.. he should have more competition but there isn't anyone on the roster or available that works for the system better.. so he should not be realistic about the skills of the QBs on the roster or make one in the lab?
    Jun 2, 2017 at 7:48 AM

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