History littered with QBs who have turned backup rags into riches
It's unlikely helicopters will be involved in the news coverage of where fourth-year Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn lands in free agency, but that doesn't mean the pursuit of the second most sought-after passer in this year's market will lack for significance or intrigue.
Flynn might not match Peyton Manning's Q rating, but the former seventh-round pick out of LSU is going to be a highly coveted commodity starting Tuesday afternoon, when the league's shopping season commences. Given Manning's remaining health issues, it's not a difficult argument to make that Flynn, he of the two career starts, could wind up impacting the NFL's 2012 season far more than wherever No. 18 signs on.
Or not. That's the tricky part about Flynn's appeal. It's mostly based on potential, and not production. In four years of backing up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, Flynn has launched a mere 132 regular-season passes. And all nine of his career touchdown passes came in those two head-turning starts he owns: A 251-yard, three-touchdown game in a narrow loss at New England in December 2009, and that 480-yard, six-touchdown monster he put together in a thrilling win over Detroit in Week 17 of last season.
Attach too much meaning to those two huge performances turned in by Flynn and a team could be mortgaging its future for the wrong guy. Attach too little and perhaps several clubs will be missing the opportunity to address their quarterback needs with a once-a-decade melding of young talent and availability.
But this much we do know: Those two starts, combined with his seal of approval from Green Bay's well-respected coaching staff, are going to get Flynn paid this month. Some team that doesn't get Manning -- Miami, Cleveland and Seattle come quickly to mind -- is going to throw a big check at Flynn and toss him the keys to their offense. And with that, he'll become the NFL's latest example of a trend that has raged in the league for the last 20 years or so: Trying to find the next Brett Favre as he hides in plain sight on the second or even third rung of an opponent's quarterback depth chart.
Ever since Green Bay shrewdly gave Atlanta a 1992 first-round pick for the lightly regarded reserve quarterback the Falcons drafted in the second round the year before, teams have been rolling the dice in the search for their own Favre-like discoveries. And for the most part, the results have been only so-so. There are as many swings and misses on the scale of a Rob Johnson, A.J. Feeley or Scott Mitchell as there are solid hits like Matt Schaub, Mark Brunell or Matt Hasselbeck.
Of the 12 young and lightly experienced backups chronicled below who got starting shots at some point in the past two decades, the only quarterback to earn a Super Bowl ring was Favre. Hasselbeck and Favre are the only two to lead a team to the Super Bowl, and once you add in Brunell and Schaub, the clear-cut success stories are pretty much exhausted. True, the jury might still be out on a Kevin Kolb or a Matt Cassel, so perhaps the percentage will climb higher in the years to come. But maybe Flynn winds up a miss, and the number creeps downward. Both possibilities remain in play at this point.
One last point in Flynn's favor: When the Packers are involved on either side of this trend, good things usually result. Favre came to Green Bay as a No. 2 quarterback, but Brunell, Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks were all former Packers reserve QBs who made good elsewhere, at least for a time. When you throw in that Kurt Warner passed through Green Bay's training camp in 1994, fresh out of college, the Packers' track record on that front grows even a little stronger.
Who knows if those past results indicate anything in the case of Flynn and his chances of future success? But some team is about to take the plunge and give the career No. 2 the opportunity to be its No. 1. As free agency looms, we're about to find out if Flynn is ready for his close-up.
Brooks looked like a star in the making early on in his Saints tenure, taking over for the injured Jeff Blake in Week 11 of 2000 and passing for 1,514 yards and nine touchdowns in the last six games of the season. Brooks had a 441-yard passing game in the regular season, a 100-yard rushing game, and threw for four touchdowns in New Orleans' first-round playoff upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Rams. But his six-year tenure with the Saints ended after the 2005 season, and he played just one more year in the NFL, retiring at 30 after a miserable 2006 in Oakland.