Browns have to know Brian Hoyer is earning starting QB money

We apologize for interrupting the revelry over the Cleveland Browns being in first place in the AFC North for some Brian Hoyer contract talk.

GM Ray Farmer said last week he’d let the season play out before addressing Hoyer’s impending free agency, but teams with good quarterbacks don’t generally let them go. The Browns have had very few good quarterbacks since 1999. If they want to keep Hoyer, they’ll have to pay him. Simply put, winning quarterbacks are paid.

Hoyer has led the Browns to a 6-3 record and first place and is 8-3 overall in games he’s started and finished for the Browns. He has a stronger arm than he's given credit for, he reads defenses and processes information in a hurry and he can slide and avoid the rush.

He is 29. He’s bounced around and he’s not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, but he’s exceeded expectations for himself and his team while dealing with the reality that Johnny Manziel mania is one play away.

It’s up to the Browns to decide if they want to sign Hoyer for the long term, but giving up on Hoyer after one season risks all with Manziel, who did not win the job or force his way onto the field as a rookie.

Balancing where Hoyer falls on the pay scale and with guaranteed money will be the jobs of Farmer and Joe Linta, Hoyer’s agent.

According to ESPN’s Roster Management System, the major players at the quarterback position have guaranteed money exceeding $50 million. That group includes Brady, Drew Brees, Rodgers and Tony Romo. (It also includes Jay Cutler, which shows the risks).

Colin Kaepernick’s guarantee is placed at $61 million, but the way his deal is structured, the 49ers can get out of it after any one of the six seasons. If the team commits to Kaepernick on April 1, his salary for that year is guaranteed. If it doesn’t, he’s a free agent. The guarantee takes on a different feel in that light.

There are other starters with guaranteed money far less than the top tier, including Matthew Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.

Andy Dalton, who had the historically low rating of 2.0 against the Browns, is guaranteed $17 million. Carson Palmer, 33, recently signed a three-year extension with $20 million guaranteed. And Alex Smith has $45 million guaranteed.

Smith and Dalton seem to provide clues related to Hoyer.

Dalton’s deal was valued at six years and $96 million. He was given a $12 million roster bonus, a roster bonus in the first year of $5.1 million and a base salary of $986,000 -- meaning he will earn $18 million this season.

Smith received a signing bonus of $18 million and a salary of $1 million this season. He has roster bonuses the final two seasons of $2 million (an out for the team).

All the numbers are benchmarks, not guidelines. The team and Linta will seek, like water, to find their own level.

Hoyer will be 30 next season, so a four-year extension seems appropriate. He probably won’t take three, and the Browns won’t want to give five --- unless it’s funny money common in NFL deals.

What works?

Start his deal with a $15 million signing bonus, a roster bonus due next April of $4 million and a base salary the first year of $1 million. That’s $20 million, guaranteed.

His salaries the next three seasons could be $10 million, $8 million and $12 million -- making the total $50 million.

A roster bonus of $4 million the third year and $2 million in the fourth give the team an out if it decides Hoyer no longer fits and reward Hoyer if he continues to play well. Total: $56 million.

Another $8 million in incentives -- $2 million each year for reaching the Super Bowl -- makes the total $64 million.

The final deal: Four years, $64 million, $20 million guaranteed -- with the team making decisions on Hoyer’s future before the third and fourth year.

That seems workable -- for both sides.