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Teams looking at ... Brian Hoyer?

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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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Brian Hoyer played for three teams, started just one game, and completed only 30 passes in 2012. He was out of work in September. He was waived by the Steelers on a Saturday in December.

And Brian Hoyer could be a hot commodity this off-season.

It’s the quarterback position’s version of “Silent Spring” this year. Last year, the college ranks gave us names like Luck, Griffin III, Tannehill, Weeden, Osweiler, Foles and Wilson, and Peyton Manning was available on the free-agent market.

The 2013 off-season is devoid of any can’t miss “franchise” players. The incoming rookies and veteran free-agent quarterbacks make up an average, if not underwhelming, crop of available quarterbacks.

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and USC quarterback Matt Barkley are getting the Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III treatment in mock drafts on the Internet this month, going anywhere from the top 10 to top five, but neither are viewed in the same light as either Luck or Griffin III by NFL scouts.

“Luck was one of the top college quarterbacks to ever enter the league, and the Redskins basically traded three years’ worth of draft picks for RGIII. Trust me, nobody’s trading anything huge to get either Smith or Barkley,” one NFC scout told me at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. “[Smith and Barkley] could end up being fine NFL quarterbacks — there’s a lot to like about both guys — but neither’s in the Luck or Griffin conversation.”

The Kansas City Chiefs confirmed the doubts over the lack of a no-brainer franchise quarterback in this year's draft when they agreed to a trade sending their 2013 second-round draft pick to San Francisco for veteran quarterback Alex Smith.

Yes, Smith is a perfect fit for Andy Reid’s West Coast offense. And sure, he’s taken a team to the NFC Championship Game and was a few bobbled punt returns away from a Super Bowl berth a season ago. But if there was a quarterback of Luck or Griffin’s potential in this year’s draft, that trade wouldn’t have been made. Kansas City would have selected that guy with the first overall pick, with no hesitation, instead.

The list of 2013 free-agent quarterbacks is a dark and dreary abyss of players either past their prime or looking to get back in the league. David Garrard. Brady Quinn. Matt Moore. Rex Grossman. Jason Campbell. David Carr. This isn’t just a second chance for most, but the third or fourth or even fifth go at it.

Now that Joe Flacco is officially off the market and back with the Ravens, those are the top unrestricted free-agent quarterbacks. Even Tarvaris Jackson, a player I actually really like, won't be a free agent this month. He was re-signed by Buffalo a few weeks ago.

Matt Flynn, Ryan Mallett and Nick Foles could fetch considerable attention if offered by their respective teams in trades.

In an era when quarterback play appears to be more important than ever, that guy to revitalize your franchise and energize your fan base — either through the draft or via free agency — might not be there this season.

“There are a lot of solid veteran backups this year, but with the exception of Flacco, there's no real ‘franchise guy’ on the market,” said an AFC scout in Indianapolis. “That only helps some of the rookie quarterbacks.”

Though Barkley and Smith — or Mike Glennon, Ryan Nassib or EJ Manuel — might not be worthy of the same conversation as Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin, they could all still be first-round picks.

With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in 2011, first-round rookie quarterbacks are not making the same astronomical contracts they did pre-2011. If you think you see a franchise quarterback sitting on the board in the 20s, it’s worth the money to trade back into the first round’s second half and select him.

No big unrestricted free agents now that Flacco's inked his deal. No can’t-miss rookies. So, who is out there?

Let’s go back to Brian Hoyer.

Not doing flips over that name? Well, that’s understandable. In four seasons, he’s played in just 15 regular-season games. He’s not exactly Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan — the biggest names in the 2014 free-agent class.

But I'm told multiple teams are intrigued by the career backup. Tough, smart, coachable and capable of starting and winning games in this league, Hoyer was just one more game away from being an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

His situation is unique. A backup for three years with the Patriots, he was slapped with a restricted free-agent tender by New England last offseason. When Ryan Mallett beat him out for the job in training camp, the Patriots waived Hoyer.

For whatever reason, Hoyer was unemployed until November, when the Steelers picked him up. After Byron Leftwich was deemed healthy enough to compete, Hoyer was shown the door again. The Cardinals scooped him up in December and he saw action in the team's last two games, looking good in Arizona's season finale against the 49ers.

“Go watch the tape of that game,” a scout said last week. “Hoyer looked good against a tough 49ers defense. He looked better than Lindley and Skelton, I'll tell you that much.”

Due to NFL rules, Hoyer — entering his fifth season in the NFL — is a restricted free agent instead of an unrestricted one this spring because, as well-researched and detailed by Darren Urban, he was on a 53-man roster for five games instead of six. He would have been the hottest free-agent name on the market. He could have made multiple millions.

Even as a restricted free agent, he is a hot commodity.

Don’t be shocked if Arizona re-signs Hoyer this month. No matter whom the Cardinals employ as their starting quarterback, he’s going to be going up against the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks defenses twice a season for the foreseeable future.

All three of those units are among the best in the league. Hoyer, in my opinion, is as good as Kevin Kolb (for much less $) and is head and shoulders better than Ryan Lindley and John Skelton.

I’m told Ken Whisenhunt, while interviewing for multiple teams earlier this year, mentioned Hoyer as a guy he’d take with him, either as a veteran backup or as a potential starter. Whisenhunt only had the former Michigan State player for a month. He liked what he saw enough to put him in the conversation as a quarterback solution.

Bored and confused by all this Brian Hoyer talk?

Welcome to the 2013 off-season. If 2012 was the “Year of the QB,” this is the Year when Brian Hoyer — the guy who couldn't make an NFL roster last August — could be the most sought-after quarterback on the market.

Make no mistake — 2012, this is not.

Tagged: Falcons, Colts, Dolphins, Patriots, 49ers, Seahawks, Redskins, Ravens, Cardinals, Steelers, Alex Smith, Matt Moore, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Matt Flynn, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Ryan Lindley, Robert Griffin

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