In Week 17 of last season, the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots entered the final regular-season game with nothing to play for. Each had clinched a top seed entering the playoffs; each could afford to rest starters. Green Bay rested its most important starter, and let backup QB Matt Flynn play. Flynn, an impending free agent, went out and delivered a Don Draper-narrated pitch to every NFL team in need of a quarterback: He threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns. Bill Belichick, on the other hand, wasn't ready to help his own backup QB author a brochure. Tom Brady started and threw 35 times in a beatdown of Buffalo. His backup, Brian Hoyer, threw exactly one pass -- the only pass he threw in all of 2011.
Now, we can't definitively say that if Hoyer gone out and pulled a Flynn, he would have had teams lining up to sign him, especially given his restricted-free-agent status, but it's fair to say that Belichick hasn't exactly put Hoyer's abilities on display. Meanwhile, Flynn, having created just enough buzz to build a market, was the hottest QB not named Peyton Manning in free agency, and should start in Week 1 for Seattle. This is the nature of looking at backup QBs as potential commodities: Teams are assessing performance for a ride someone else may or may not have merely taken for a test drive.
Last year, we said Flynn would be the hottest name among NFL backups, this offseason's Kevin Kolb. He was. This year, it could be Hoyer. And while you could argue it behooves Belichick to highlight Hoyer's ability so a trade market emerges, it's just as likely the coach sees him as a sound security blanket behind Brady. After all, Belichick has needed a backup before, and the assurance that someone could run the New England scheme is worth more than, say, the third- to fifth-rounder the Patriots could get for Hoyer in a trade.
Still, that leaves Hoyer at the top of our list for the NFL's most marketable backups for 2012.
Quickly, the parameters: These are guys who could either (A) be available in free agency in the near future, or (B) could draw some interest on the trade market. It's about marketability, period. I've also listed some who don't quite fit the profile of "marketable" just yet.
1. Brian Hoyer, New England Patriots