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Free-agent quarterbacks to replace Matt Barkley as Buffalo Bills’ backup

If the Bills want to upgrade every weakness on the roster, the backup quarterback position is one to watch

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Chicago Bears v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

If the Buffalo Bills were to lose starting quarterback Josh Allen for any length of time, the team would be in trouble. Granted, that’s true of most NFL teams, but the Bills are less prepared than many squads to absorb the loss of their starting signal caller.

Veteran quarterback Matt Barkley, signed in the middle of the 2018 season, made one start in that same year a mere 12 days after signing. His excellent performance in that game, a 41-10 victory over the New York Jets where he completed 15-of-25 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns, helped the Bills to snap a four-game losing streak going into their bye week. Barkley parlayed that strong performance into a two-year, $4 million contract extension that keeps him in Buffalo through the 2020 season.

When Barkley was pressed into action in 2019, the results were not nearly as positive as his lone appearance the year prior. Barkley appeared in only two games, completing 27-of-51 passes for 359 yards and three interceptions. He entered against the New England Patriots in September, leading the Bills into Patriots’ territory on a two-minute drive in the fourth quarter before ultimately throwing a game-ending interception. In the season finale, Barkley played much of the final three quarters with the backups against the New York Jets and, in difficult conditions, he was unable to generate much.

Barkley has a great relationship with Allen, and it’s clear that he loves the city of Buffalo; however, if the goal is to have 53 players on your roster who can step in and help the team win at a moment’s notice, there is a strong argument to be made for replacing Barkley. Looking at the available players on the free-agent market, there are more than a few players who have had more success in the league than Barkley. Whether those players would want to come to Buffalo as a mentor-slash-backup for Allen is another question altogether.

In this scenario, we’re assuming that the Bills are moving on from Barkley. Here are a few players they should consider courting in his place.

Case Keenum (Washington)

Washington signed the 32-year-old Keenum to serve as a placeholder for rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, and the veteran gave way to the rookie after compiling a 1-7 record through eight starts. While the record is bad, the straight numbers (64.8% completion rate, 11 touchdowns to five interceptions, 6.9 yards per passing attempt) were not bad at all. Even if the Bills were to pay Keenum what he made last year in Washington, which was $3.5 million, it would only represent an increase of $1.5 million on the salary cap over what Barkley counts as right now. Keenum is a better player than Barkley, and he is only two years removed from a phenomenal season with the Minnesota Vikings. If Allen were to be injured for a month, I’d feel better about Buffalo’s chances with someone like Keenum at the helm than I do with Barkley.

Taysom Hill (New Orleans Saints)

There has been some Hill chatter around the interwebs, most notably from ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, so why not address it? The jack-of-all-trades lined up on special teams, as a receiver, as a wildcat quarterback, and as a tight end for the New Orleans Saints last year. Buffalo has employed a quarterback with similar versatility under head coach Sean McDermott before, as Joe Webb served as a special teamer, emergency quarterback, and folk hero for completing a 34-yard pass to Deonte Thompson in the Snowvertime victory against the Indianapolis Colts. Hill is a restricted free agent who has said that he wants to be a quarterback only—and a starter, at that. The Saints are expected to keep him, but as a restricted free agent, other teams will have the right to negotiate with him, and if New Orleans doesn’t want to match a particular offer, than Hill could be on the move. With Hill’s athleticism, it would help the Bills to keep much of the same offense (especially the ground attack) in play if Allen were to be injured, but this is an unlikely scenario at best, especially if New Orleans places a first-round tender on him.

Trevor Siemian (New York Jets)

A low-cost veteran coming off an ankle injury suffered in the first half of his only start with the New York Jets, Siemien had a promising start to his career with the Denver Broncos before he was swallowed by the Curse of John Elway. After completing 59% of his passes and throwing 18 touchdowns to just ten interceptions in 2016, he saw his TD:INT ratio dip to 12:14 in 2017. He was traded to the Minnesota Vikings in 2018, where he held a clipboard as the backup to Kirk Cousins for the duration of the season before signing on as Sam Darnold’s backup in New Jersey. Siemien may have a bit more athletic upside than Barkley, and he definitely has a stronger arm, but changing them out might feel a bit like reshuffling deck chairs on the Titanic to some. Siemien is a good play-action passer, and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has worked that into the game plan with great success over the last two years. Siemien wouldn’t be an inspiring choice, but he is an upgrade to Barkley.

Jeff Driskel (Detroit Lions)

An intriguing younger player, Driskel filled in for Matthew Stafford last year, going 0-3 for the Detroit Lions while their franchise quarterback was injured. He completed 59% of his passes in those three games, tossing four touchdowns against four interceptions while passing for 685 yards. He added 151 yards and a touchdown on just 22 carries, and he also caught a pass for six yards. Driskel is only 26, and he is a ridiculously good athlete. At the NFL Combine in 2016, he ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash, and he has plenty of arm strength to execute the middle-crossing portion of Buffalo’s playbook. Sure, he doesn’t have a Howitzer like Allen does but, in a pinch, someone with Driskel’s blend of speed and size (he’s 6’4” and 237 lbs) could do a pretty good Allen impersonation for a short time due to an injury.

Chase Daniel (Chicago Bears)

The veteran has made a solid career for himself as a backup, and over the last two years with the Chicago Bears, there have been multiple times where he’s looked far more competent than starter Mitchell Trubisky. Daniel completed 70% of his passes last season, throwing for 435 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions in three games (one start). The Bears had been connected to Marcus Mariota, given that his collegiate head coach, Mark Helfrich, was the team’s offensive coordinator; however, Helfrich was fired in January, leaving that connection a bit less obvious. If Chicago decides to bring in more serious competition for Trubisky, the Bills could do far worse than adding a steady veteran like Daniel.

Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans)

Speaking of the former No. 2 overall pick, I can’t think of many guys who are more “process” than the clean-cut Mariota, who lost his job to Ryan Tannehill and then watched the Tennessee Titans march all the way to the AFC championship game. Is it a likely scenario? Of course not. But, hypothetically, let’s say that a market never materializes for Mariota to go somewhere as a starter. Would Buffalo want to add that kind of competition for Allen? It doesn’t seem like a move that general manager Brandon Beane would make, but Mariota would be a great insurance policy just in case Allen is injured or, perhaps worse, takes a big step backwards after a promising second season. This is a move you make in Madden, not in the actual NFL...but if the numbers fit, there’s no denying that Mariota is a far superior player to Barkley.


Which free agent quarterback should the Buffalo Bills sign to replace Matt Barkley?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Case Keenum
    (378 votes)
  • 10%
    Taysom Hill
    (213 votes)
  • 1%
    Trevor Siemien
    (33 votes)
  • 3%
    Jeff Driskell
    (76 votes)
  • 5%
    Chase Daniel
    (104 votes)
  • 21%
    Marcus Mariota
    (410 votes)
  • 7%
    Nathan Peterman
    (137 votes)
  • 1%
    Other; specify in comments
    (28 votes)
  • 29%
    None; keep Barkley
    (564 votes)
1943 votes total Vote Now