I’ve always enjoyed backup quarterback conversations. The weight one applies to signal-caller depth often permeates their opinion on specific team maneuvers and so each discussion has a philosophical slant as much as a strategic one. As the Buffalo Bills’ current backup quarterback Matt Barkley has his contract expire this offseason, the position has once again been thrust into the spotlight. It is, however, much different looking at Barkley’s vacated spot through a lens that is framed by an MVP-caliber season just completed by the starting quarterback. Does this impact people’s opinion of the value of a backup quarterback one way or another? Is the gap now so insurmountable that the attitude becomes: “Well if Allen goes down, we’re toast anyway, so spend capital elsewhere,” or does it become a desire to increase the possible level of play from the backup in the event of a starter’s injury?
I’ve never agreed with the idea that a team should skimp on the backup quarterback position for a couple reasons. First, we all agree that quarterback is the most important position on the field. The value of that position doesn’t change when your starter goes down. The ceiling of play almost certainly does (if the backup was better than the starter, they would likely be starting—barring some coaching incompetence), but the value of the actual play of the position remains the same. Not every team is capable of modifying their entire attack from one that centers around the QB to one that minimizes the QB at the drop of a hat. The salary cap and basic team-building fundamentals ensure that a team is built stylistically for a particular type of play and although being matchup specific has value, the better the quality of your quarterback play absent your starter, the lower chance that mass modification into areas of weakness will be necessary. Essentially, if you can upgrade one spot to avoid exposing the deficiencies of multiple spots, it becomes an efficient place in which to invest.
If Josh Allen goes down for an extended period of time, the team will likely suffer notably and their chances of making deep playoff runs is hampered without question. But this argument assumes the worst-case scenario when, more often, injuries keep a quarterback sidelined for a few games. These games can be the difference between making the playoffs or not, getting the coveted No. 1 seed or not, or getting past a tough-but-not-insurmountable Wild Card playoff game. The sample size of the NFL is such that every game counts, and if every game counts and we know that QB play has a big impact on the game, throwing your hands up in the air and shrugging to the tune of “well I guess we’re in trouble now” feels like an illogical way to approach a real possibility in a contact sport where there are multiple people trying to hit your quarterback on every play.
So if we understand that the backup quarterback is important and can make a significant difference in the overall result of a team’s season, is Matt Barkley a re-sign candidate? In the opinion of this author, there are free-agent and draftable quarterbacks who can perform at a higher level if called upon. The impact that Barkley has off the field is recognized, and Bills general manager Brandon Beane even went as far as to say Buffalo was “blessed” by the presence of Matt Barkley and his wife in Western New York. Coming off a career season and surprisingly getting a chance to run it back with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Josh Allen has graduated past the need for a mentor in the quarterback room and attention should be paid more to the quality of play on the field that the team would get if the services of the backup should be required.
With that in mind, there are some intriguing options out there for the Bills should they decide to partake. Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Jacoby Brissett immediately stand out as quarterbacks who very possibly could find themselves on the outside looking in on the QB carousel this offseason. Mitchell Trubisky may be looking for a place to rehab his reputation if he fails to catch on as a starter outside of Chicago, and Colt McCoy has proven himself to be a passable fill-in more so than Barkley at this stage in his career (with a career pass rating nearly 20 points higher than Barkley’s).
In the draft, day-three picks with tools include players like Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond. The Bills invested a fifth-round pick last year in former Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm, although his lack of physical tools make me hesitant to thrust him into a role I just outlined above as being an important one.
I think the Bills can upgrade at backup quarterback this offseason and I think they should. They’re in a window where they can make a push for a championship, and having a season come off the rails because Josh pulled a hamstring and missed a few games in the middle of a tight playoff race feels like a risk worth mitigating.
- 2021 All-22 Analysis: Matt Barkley’s game film
- Contract projection: What’s it gonna cost to retain Matt Barkley?
- Do the Bills have a backup QB already on the roster without re-signing Barkley?
- Free-agent options at backup QB
- 2021 NFL Draft options at backup QB
- Opinion: What I would do at backup QB if I was the Bills
- Vote: What do you think the Bills should do at backup QB?