FOXBORO, Mass. — Patriots backup quarterback Brian Hoyer has heard the speculation that he could be on the receiving end of a nice payday in the offseason, but he's been tuning it out for the time being.
Hoyer, who will be a restricted free agent after the season, has strung together some good performances in the preseason and his spot duty during the regular season. The two-year veteran has also maximized his opportunity by learning from Tom Brady, which won't be taken lightly by quarterback-hungry general managers.
Hoyer has been smart with the ball, has good arm strength and delivers passes with accuracy. He's also shown a good level of toughness, popping off the turf quickly after getting hit hard on a number of occasions in the preseason.
Hoyer, who turns 26 on Thursday, has completed 86 of 143 passes (60.1 percent) for 1,121 yards, five touchdowns and one interception in his three preseasons. He has completed 26 of 42 passes (61.9 percent) for 264 yards, one touchdown and one interception in his regular-season work.
All of those credentials have made him a hot commodity heading into the offseason.
"I really just put it aside," Hoyer said. "It's not going to affect me right now, and it's not something I need to worry about. Just worry about what our game plan is, who we're playing that week and trying to get better, whether it's on scout team or taking our own plays. You can't really believe all the hype. Just put it in the background and not worry about it because it's not going to do you any good to think about something like that."
The Patriots still control Hoyer because of his status as a restricted free agent, but it's unclear if he's in their long-term plans, particularly since they selected quarterback Ryan Mallett in the third round of April's draft. If they don't believe Mallett will be ready to take on the responsibility as Brady's top backup, the Patriots could retain Hoyer for another season.
However, he should be an asset in the trading market for teams that won't be in position to draft Andrew Luck (Stanford), Matt Barkley (USC) or Landry Jones (Oklahoma), all of whom could be off the board within the first five to eight picks. Luck has already drawn grading comparisons to Peyton Manning, and Luck, Barkley and Jones could form one of the great quarterback classes in history.
Hoyer might not be alone in the category of current backups who could earn starting jobs with other teams next season. There has also been some interest in Cowboys backup Stephen McGee, whose contract runs through 2012, and Packers backup Matt Flynn, who will also be a restricted free agent.
Hoyer, McGee and Flynn will all be 26 years old this offseason, and none of them will supplant their team's starter without an injury.
They could fall in line with quarterbacks such as Matt Schaub, Matt Cassel and Kevin Kolb as career-long backups who were traded with the intent of starting elsewhere. They've experienced a mixed bag of success, but they also signified a new era for their team's fan bases.
The Falcons traded Schaub to the Texans in 2007, when JaMarcus Russell headlined an iffy quarterback class that has since turned into a complete dud (though Kolb is the last ray of hope). The Texans, who originally had the eighth overall pick, determined they'd prefer Schaub over someone like Brady Quinn.
The Chiefs took a greater gamble in 2009 by acquiring Cassel, though former Patriots personnel guru Scott Pioli might have had a bias in that decision. Kansas City had the third overall pick, which was too low for Matthew Stafford, but they could have gone with Mark Sanchez or Josh Freeman.
The Cardinals had the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, but they had a different dilemma while trying to secure wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald with a long-term deal. Fitzgerald wanted a quarterback with NFL experience, and he vocalized his displeasure with the notion that the Cardinals could draft someone like Jake Locker or Blaine Gabbert.
The market for Hoyer this offseason is still taking shape. The Redskins, 49ers, Seahawks, Dolphins and Raiders aren't invested in a long-term quarterback, and the Chiefs and Broncos could join that list, pending the performances from Cassel and Tim Tebow, respectively.
Even if three of those teams are in position to draft Luck, Barkley or Jones, there will at least be two to four potential suitors for Hoyer's services. If the Patriots are confident in Mallett and can swing a deal for a second- or third-round pick, it would behoove them to part ways with the 2009 undrafted free agent.
And even if Hoyer isn't paying attention to the hype, he understands the possibility exists that the next year might be the most important one of his professional career.