Soon the 49ers training camp will begin and we’ll focus on players competing for starting jobs or spots on the final roster.
But there are five people who tower over those training-camp competitions, five people with more on the line than everyone else. Here are those five people.
1. Brian Hoyer.
Hoyer isn’t competing to be the starting quarterback — the Niners gave him the job already. But the job may not be his for long.
Hoyer is on his fifth team in six years. He’s what you call a journeyman. Still, there’s a lot to like about him: He’s a veteran, he’s improving and his stats from the past two seasons are surprisingly good.
Since 2015, Hoyer has played in 17 games. During those games, his quarterback rating has been 93.7 — a better rating than many quarterbacks have accumulated during their past 17 games. Better than Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota, Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick.
You could argue Hoyer is the second-best quarterback in the NFC West right now, second to Russell Wilson. You also could argue Hoyer is the best quarterback the Niners have had since Alex Smith. You even could argue Hoyer is better than Smith.
But Hoyer’s tenure as a starting quarterback is on the line because he is defined by one moment.
Actually, five moments in one playoff game. I’m talking the 2016 wild card game against the Chiefs, the biggest game of Hoyer’s life, when he threw five interceptions and lost singlehandedly.
That one game defined Hoyer’s entire reputation, and this is it: When the stakes are low, he’s an above-average quarterback. When the stakes are high, he’s so bad he loses the game by himself.
That’s why most teams would take Alex Smith over Hoyer. When Smith is at his worst, when he’s throwing for only 120 yards in a game, he still can win because he rarely commits a turnover. He’s not a team-killer.
Hoyer always will be seen as a team-killer unless he proves otherwise next season. He’ll have to lead the 49ers to the playoffs and win one playoff game or the Niners almost certainly will replace him.
2. Kyle Shanahan.
Shanahan is a more extreme version of Hoyer.
At his best, Shanahan is the NFL’s premier offensive coach. At his worst — well, you know. Everyone knows. Even people who don’t follow football know.
Shanahan orchestrated the biggest collapse in Super Bowl history just a few months ago. That is Shanahan’s career-defining moment. When he retires, people will remember him as the guy who blew a sure victory when he didn’t run the ball enough with a 25-point lead in the second half against the Patriots. Nothing he can do next season will change that.
Shanahan is in Pete Carroll territory, and that’s a bad thing. Carroll won a Super Bowl, but his career is defined by the Super Bowl he lost. Defined by his decision to throw the ball at the goal line instead of handing it to Marshawn Lynch so he could run it in the end zone for the win. Carroll seems to have slowly unraveled as a coach since that moment.