The backup quarterback of any NFL team often enjoys quite a few perks. For the Buffalo Bills, the backup quarterback is often the most popular guy on the team, as anyone who heard fans clamor for Frank Reich to start over Jim Kelly can attest (yes, this actually happened, although I’m not sure exactly how serious these people were).
Backup quarterbacks often have their own uniform, involving a clipboard, a baseball cap (sometimes worn backwards!), and in the winter months in places like Buffalo, a big, puffy jacket to keep them warm. But what happens when the bubble bursts and the backup is pressed into action on the football field?
I’m joking, of course, when I’m minimizing the importance of a backup quarterback to a football team. Think about it: The backup quarterback is the one guy who everyone hopes never has to play, but when he does, he could be the guy to save a season (Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Nick Foles) or sink it (Curtis Painter, Brett Hundley, Doug Johnson) when called into action.
In today’s edition of “91 players in 91 days,” we profile the player that nobody wants to see play for Buffalo, but if he has to, we all hope that he can keep the ship afloat.
Name: Matt Barkley
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 234 lbs.
Age: 29 (30 on 9/8/2020)
Experience/Draft: 8; selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round (No. 98 overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft
Acquired: Signed with Buffalo on 10/31/18
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Barkley enters the final year of the two-year contract he signed in December 2018. That contract is worth $4 million in total, of which $600,000 is guaranteed. For the 2020 season, Barkley carries a cap hit of $2.025 million, and the Bills would be wearing a $200,000 dead-cap charge if they were to release Barkley.
2019 Recap: Barkley made two appearances last year, none of which were as magical as his 2018 start against the New York Jets. Pressed into action in Week 4 after Josh Allen took a head shot from New England Patriots safety Jonathan Jones, Barkley promptly took the Bills to the Patriots’ three-yard line before the drive stalled out on fourth down. After a couple of possessions where Buffalo essentially went nowhere, Barkley put together a few nice plays on the team’s final drive, but he was intercepted by Jaime Collins on third down with under two minutes left, effectively ending the game. Barkley finished that contest 9-of-16 passing for 127 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. He did not appear in another game until the season finale against the Jets, and while his numbers were bad (18-of-35, 232 yards, 2 interceptions, 2 fumbles, 1 fumble lost), they don’t tell the whole story. Barkley was playing with second- and third-string players in a cold, windy rain and in a game that meant nothing for Buffalo’s playoff seeding. Amazingly, Barkley threw 51 passes on just 77 offensive snaps.
Positional outlook: Barkley is second on the current hypothetical quarterback depth chart, behind unquestioned starter Josh Allen, and in front of rookie Jake Fromm and veteran Davis Webb.
2020 Offseason: Someone picked Matt Barkley instead of Saquon Barkley second overall in a fantasy football draft this weekend. Now I’m no stranger to being a little, how should we say, “tuned up” during a fantasy draft, but that’s something even I’ve never managed to do.
2020 Season outlook: Barkley’s roster spot is pretty safe. Buffalo made the mistake two years ago of going into a season with only Nathan Peterman (shudder) and a rookie Josh Allen on the roster, so I doubt that they’ll cut the veteran Barkley to go with Fromm and/or Webb this year. With the threat of COVID-19 looming, it’s also more likely than it’s ever been that head coach Sean McDermott will keep three quarterbacks on the roster just in case one (or more) has to be quarantined thanks to the illness.
Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, I will say this: Buffalo needs a better option here, one who doesn’t need the offensive coordinator to design an entirely different playbook around him, if the team wants to truly prepare for an injury to Allen. Sure, there are few people who can combine Allen’s blend of arm strength and speed, and even fewer who are sitting around as unsigned players willing to be a backup, but the Bills have a top-three (at best) roster in the AFC, yet the whole thing rests on Allen staying healthy. Buffalo is a playoff team with Allen. Are they a playoff team with Barley at the helm? If the answer is no (and I think “no” is correct), then the team needs to look for an upgrade. They may have found one in Fromm, but I think that rather than drafting someone to mirror Allen, they drafted someone to mirror Barkley...which is the exact opposite of what I’d want them to do. In any case, this is probably Barkley’s last rodeo in Buffalo, but he’s pretty safe for 2020.