When the 49ers first contacted Brian Hoyer this week, they had just parted ways with their most recognizable wide receiver, Torrey Smith, and were being linked on every sports page, sportscast and sports radio segment to a much more high-profile passer – Kirk Cousins.
If those factors gave Hoyer pause, it didn’t last long.
The newest 49ers quarterback said Friday the opportunity for a reunion with Kyle Shanahan and to be a key piece of the head coach’s rebuilding project quickly led Hoyer to choose the 49ers over the Jets and the other teams that were calling.
“To be wanted and to be wanted by a guy I have respect for – that was a really big factor,” Hoyer said Friday as he and six other free-agent acquisitions were introduced to the local media.
Hoyer said of Cousins: “I know Kyle’s relationship with Kirk. He drafted him in Washington. For me, all I can worry about is this year. I signed a two-year deal. (But) if you look beyond that, you’re doing yourself a disservice.”
Cousins will continue to loom over the quarterback conversation, perhaps for another year. The Washington quarterback, who signed his franchise-tag designation Friday, reportedly asked for a trade and has stated that the 49ers are his favored destination. Shanahan was the offensive coordinator in Washington in 2012 when the team drafted Cousins in the fourth round.
Meanwhile, Hoyer’s contract gives the 49ers plenty of room to add a more prominent passer. He can make as much as $9 million for the upcoming season – more than most Americans will see in several lifetimes but bottom-of-the-pack money for a starting NFL quarterback. The provocative website Pro Football Talk has begun attaching an asterisk to the word “starter” in stories about Hoyer, a dig at the tenuous nature of his position on the depth chart.
On Friday the 49ers signed two quarterbacks, Hoyer and Matt Barkley, who was behind Hoyer on the Bears’ depth chart last year. But Shanahan noted the 49ers weren’t finished at the position.
“We’ll continue to look,” he said. “You rarely take just two guys into a camp, so I have a pretty good feeling we will add more. I don’t know if that will be through free agency or the draft, but it’s every avenue possible. We don’t limit ourselves to anything. … If we have six of ’em, we’re still looking for more. It’s a never-ending process.”
Like Cousins, Hoyer has a background with Shanahan. He started 13 games for the Browns in 2014 when Shanahan was that team’s offensive coordinator, and he said he planned to go through his boxes of old Browns formations and plays to brush up on Shanahan’s system.
His experience in Cleveland also told him that Shanahan’s offense didn’t require big-name wideouts. The Browns’ leading receivers that year were, in order: Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel and Miles Austin.
“One of the best things I’m capable of doing is spreading the ball out,” Hoyer said. “I’m not just focusing on one guy. That’s what’s good about Kyle’s system: If you just go through the reads, it gets you to the right guy.”
As the 49ers were reaching a deal with Hoyer this week, they also secured three receivers – Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson – and a tight end, Logan Paulsen. Garçon, Robinson and Paulsen worked under Shanahan in Washington. Robinson also was part of his offense in Atlanta, familiarity that Hoyer said would get the 49ers off to a faster start this spring.
“Because it isn’t the easiest system,” he said. “It works because Kyle puts so much on the players.”
As for Cousins or the possibility of the 49ers adding a quarterback with their No. 2 overall draft pick – Hoyer said he isn’t sweating the possibility.
He was on a roll as the Browns starter in 2013 – three wins in three starts – when an ACL injury ended his season. He also was playing well for the Bears last season when he broke his left arm.
The lesson: There’s only so much you can control.
Said Hoyer: “So for me, to be here going into my ninth year with a really good chance to be the starting quarterback for the 49ers, it was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.”