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Matt Flynn Is Green and Fool's Gold as Teams Look For a Starter

Matt Flynn had the game of his life on Sunday, throwing for a Packers franchise record 6 touchdowns, and 480 yards passing, another team record. There was discussion of whether this should influence Aaron Rodgers as MVP, and then discussion of how much money Flynn made with this performance. Matt Flynn is a free agent after this season, and the Packers can only retain him by placing the franchise tag on him, then trading him. Otherwise, he is free to sign with any team.

It was a magical performance, the type of performance that can come along without warning. Flynn was on fire in the second half, trading blows with Matt Stafford as the teams went back and forth in a game with 11 lead changes. Now, we turn to Matt Flynn, and what he might be worth.

Evaluating the backup quarterback on a great team who thrives in limited action is one of the hardest things teams can do, this side of evaluating starting quarterbacks on teams with no talent around them. I looked at the latter case recently with Sam Bradford. At that extreme, it’s hard for anyone to thrive. With a talented team, it is hard to tell if it is the player, or the situation.

We’ll start with a list of the quarterbacks, who like Matt Flynn, who is 26, threw 300 or fewer passes by age 26 and had the best “adjusted net yards per attempt” ratings adjusted to league average. Flynn, for what it’s worth even with that performance, is at a ANYA+ score of 106: above average but not significantly so (Rodgers has a ANYA+ of 124 over the last 4 years). Courtesy of pro-football-reference.com, here they are:

So, there is Matt Flynn, situated right there between Rob Johnson, A.J. Feeley, and T.J. Rubley. Mark Rypien is on the list, though all of his passes came in the same season and he was a starter for the Redskins at age 26. Don Strock was a pretty good backup and started a fair amount for the Dolphins. Danny White took over for Roger Staubach and the Cowboys went to three straight NFC Championship games. Bob Lee started a couple of seasons in Atlanta. Other than that, the list doesn’t have a whole lot to look at.

Performing well in a small sample size, when the league hasn’t made you a starter by age 26, is not necessarily an indication of future success.

What about his fantastic game on Sunday, though? Is it the type of performance, standing alone, that suggests he may be able to be a starter in the future, because of how extreme it is. What if we just looked at guys at roughly the same age who had great starts very early in their starting career, at either age 25 or 26. Here are the best “adjusted net yards per attempt” games by a player at age 25 or 26, within the first 3 starts of his career.

  • Bill Kenney in 1980 (17 of 28, 316 yards, 3 TD, o INT in 3rd career start)
  • Rob Johnson in 1997 (20 of 24, 294 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT in 1st start)
  • Troy Smith in 2010 (17 of 28, 356 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT in )
  • Bob Lee in 1970 (18 of 25, 268 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT in 2nd start)
  • Mark Rypien in 1988 (13 of 21, 187 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT in 3rd start)
  • Tony Romo in 2006 (20 of 29, 308 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT in 3rd start)
  • Stan Humphries in 1990 (20 of 25, 257 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT in 1st start)
  • Chad Pennington in 2002 (24 of 29, 324 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, in 2nd start)
  • Dan Orlovsky in 2008 (12 of 25, 265 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT in 2nd start)
  • Tim Rattay in 2003 (21 of 27, 254 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT in 2nd start)
  • Kevin Kolb in 2009 (24 of 34, 327 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT in 2nd start)
  • Curtis Painter in 2011 (15 of 27, 277 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT in 2nd start)

It’s still a hit or miss list. Smith, Orlovsky, Rattay and Painter are very much on the stopgap list. The jury is still convening on Kolb, but this year did not look good. Rob Johnson and Bob Lee both started for a short period of time. For the positive side, Romo, Pennington, Kenney, Rypien and Humpries all had good runs as starters. Of course, in many of those cases, these players were installed as starters already in the seasons when they had their first big game, usually in the first month. Flynn’s came in the final game, and did not have to deal with the pressure of being the man.

Plenty of quarterbacks, more than you might realize, have had a singular good game at some point. When someone like Brady Quinn does it more than ten starts in after looking really bad, we see it as the blip on the radar. When it happens early, though, we don’t know: sign of things to come, or just an early good result where the role of the dice came up right.

I would be leery of Flynn. My observation is that he is not as accurate as the numbers would suggest, and he takes too many sacks, and will likely be mistake prone with a lesser cast around him. His interception rate is below average with the limited sample size, and he fumbled early in the game on Sunday. He can make plays, and he did so on Sunday. He is better than many backups.

I don’t see how the Packers can franchise him. If he is franchised at a high salary, then the acquiring team would have to negotiate, and that number would be leverage for Flynn to get a big contract (see Cassel, Matt). I’m not saying that Matt Flynn should not get a shot, but it has to be at a reasonable price. Alex Smith signed for about $5 million, Tarvaris was around the same range. If you can get Flynn for borderline starter/top backup money, take a chance. If it is going to cost more than that, I think it is Green and Fool’s Gold.

[Photo via Getty]

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