The Case for Matt Barkley

The Case for Matt Barkley
August 8, 2014, 2:15 pm
Share This Post

This time last year, there were people who actually believed Matt Barkley might be the quarterback of the future in Philadelphia. It was an outlandish claim even back then, being that Barkley tumbled all the way into the fourth round—usually a sure sign a player is not intended to represent the direction of an entire franchise. That noise was out there, though.

Naturally, the course of history went about rerouting perceptions about Barkley, only now it seems folks have veered off the opposite side of the path. Some fans are ready to write off the signal-caller completely after his three relief appearances for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, while multiple members of the media have suggested Barkley could be released or traded.

Let’s begin with the notion Barkley might not make the team, because I find that statement a little shocking. Such a move would seem to fly in the face of Roster Management 101 on so many levels, and for no real reason at all.

Word is Barkley had an awful spring, but he’s looked fine at training camp, and has even completed some of the more impressive passes of any quarterback there. Yes, he was splitting third-team reps with G.J. Kinne at one point, but that experiment was short-lived. Barkley is clearly ahead of Kinne on the depth chart.

What exactly would be the benefit to holding on to Kinne, anyway? When the Eagles cut their camp arm last summer, nobody signed him. He was a free agent up until October 22, when the Birds added him to the practice squad—a precautionary measure with Nick Foles and Michael Vick both hurt. Essentially, Kinne played the role of Eagles reserve quarterback from his couch for two months, which will likely be the case again come September.

Conversely, if Barkley somehow wound up being cut out of training camp instead, he would be claimed off the waiver wire in a second. Unlike Kinne, Barkley is viewed as a prospect, as evidenced by the fact that the Eagles had to use a draft pick to acquire the USC grad. One NFL season hasn’t changed that.

There’s no reason to give away a free roster spot. There’s no need to give up on Barkley yet, either.

Teams cut fourth-round selections all the time—it’s deep enough into the draft that there isn’t a high probability of a player panning out—but most get more than a year to prove they belong. The No. 98 pick (plus the seventh rounder the Birds sent to Jacksonville to move up three spots) is enough of an investment that you want to see the prospect’s development through.

In the event of his untimely release, would the Eagles be able to say with a straight face they did that with Barkley?

Part of the discrepancy here might be the perception that Barkley did a terrible job in three games last season, which is true if we only look at the numbers. He averaged a meager 6.1 yards per attempt, tossed zero touchdowns to four interceptions, was sacked three times and lost a fumble and finished the season with a pitiful 44.6 efficiency rating. Barkley did not lead a single drive that ended in points for Philadelphia.

But he was a rookie, so right off the bat, you’re grading on a curve. Plus, all four of Barkley’s picks were thrown in the fourth quarter of games the signal-caller entered when his team was already trailing. It’s not like he was dropped into favorable or even neutral situations for his first real NFL action.

And there were things Barkley actually did well. His 61.2 completion percentage ranks 10th all-time among rookie quarterbacks who attempted at least as many passes (49). He wasn’t afraid to take shots downfield and made some decisive situations with the football. Personally, I felt the Eagles would’ve had a real chance to beat the New York Giants in Week 8 had Barkley been groomed as the starter rather than an injured Vick.

Point being, as long as you’re being fair in your evaluation of a fourth-round quarterback thrust into some difficult spots, you probably shouldn’t have reached the conclusion that the kid has zero upside.

The other aspect of this puzzle that’s been misread, in my opinion, is how Mark Sanchez fits into all of this. If the Eagles truly had any confidence in Barkley, why would they feel the need to sign an expensive understudy?

Again, it comes down to Roster Management 101. The Eagles aren’t necessarily inclined to simply hand a second-year player the potentially critical role of backup quarterback—especially not when there is a five-year NFL veteran available who has a winning record in 68 career starts, including a 4-2 mark in the playoffs. Can you blame the front office for wanting some experience on the bench? At worst, you hope the competition pushes Barkley to become a better player.

Besides, Sanchez’s contract is only for one year. Who knows what happens at the end of his deal—theoretically, he could re-sign—but you have to believe he’s hoping to parlay his opportunity with the Birds into another starting gig someplace else. That means if the team dumps Barkley now, and Sanchez departs in the offseason, the only quarterbacks on the roster who are under contract for 2015 are Foles and Kinne.

Way to think ahead, guys. Barkley was signed through 2016.

I’m not buying the idea Barkley could be traded, either. For what? What trade value could he possibly have? Barkley has value to the Eagles because he knows the system. He likely couldn’t help another team this year, so what would be the point of that?

Perhaps there would be a lot less uncertainty surrounding Barkley’s future if there weren’t such unrealistic hopes to begin with. Fourth-round quarterbacks are projects whose ceiling is often that of a backup quarterback. If you felt Barkley was supposed to look like a potential starter by now, it’s no wonder you might be disappointed.

Barkley isn’t going anywhere for the time being. Based on his pedigree, he’s in the exact spot he should be at this stage of his career, pushing a veteran quarterback for the backup job. Just as there was no hurry to elevate him to No. 2 on the depth chart, there’s no reason to run Barkley out of town, either.