By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Matt Barkley deserves a roster spot next season. More than that, he deserves a chance to compete for a starting quarterback position, either here with the Chicago Bears or elsewhere if the money is better and dumber.
That’s the easy, obvious part of the latest Bears Backup QB Experience, an act with a perpetually strange following like a group of overly denim-ed greasy folk at Chicago Ridge Fest cheering on a band that figuratively died 15 or more years ago. Barkley is new-ish and different and not Jay Cutler and smiles sometimes and doesn’t seem like he’d laugh at you in the shower.
“The guy don’t got no quit, man,” receiver Deonte Thompson said after the Bears lost 30-27 to the Packers on Sunday. “And he makes us have no quit.”
I don’t doubt Thompson there, and nobody can say that the Bears as a team have given up on this season. Barkley’s effort as an injury replacement in a flushed season has been admirable. The Bears have been competitive in their four games with him under center, still going 1-3 anyway. He’s completed 60.5 percent of passes in his four starts with six touchdowns and five interceptions. For a backup, you could do way worse. And because Barkley isn’t catastrophic, there’s that old feeling bubbling in the nacho-stained Bears fan intestinal collective that he may be some diamond in the rough.
He’s not. He’s Matt Barkley, serviceable guy as of now with obvious talent who’s on his third roster since 2013. His numbers, a small sample size, are those that Cutler has been excoriated for during a long Bears tenure that most assume will (and want to) end soon. On Sunday, Barkley had 362 yards, two TDs, three interceptions and a lost fumble– those feel like a very Cutler vision quest stat sheet. Barkley didn’t grade out on Pro Football Focus in the top five players on the Bears offense from Sunday.
For the most part, Matt Barkley had a nice game throwing the football against Green Bay. He hit his target on 74.4 percent of his throws – which ranks ninth among the 20 qualified QBs to have played already in Week 15 – and he really looked to be comfortable in control of this Bears offense. Barkley did most of his work short, completing 19 of 21 throws for 159 yards and both of his touchdowns on throws that traveled fewer than 10 yards in the air. He had a large role in Chicago committing some costly turnovers that were likely the difference-maker in this game, but overall it looks like Barkley’s stock is trending upwards in Chicago.
Upwards from “Oh, that guy from USC is on the roster?” for sure. To being entitled to compete for a starting spot on the 2017 Bears that should also have drafted a quarterback that spring? Definitely. Something more than that? Eh, not so fast.
We’ve jumped on too many awful Bears backup QB bandwagons before to be so quickly fooled again. Josh McCown and Caleb Hanie were one-hit wonders who became jokes, because defenses quickly figured them out and exposed why they weren’t starting in the first place. Both had loud cult followings because they were different than the ingrained emo pop of Cutler. And now you look back on those two eras like you do a Facebook anniversary video of you dancing to LMFAO.
For the all the comfortability Barkley shows in the pocket, he’s still prone to bad decisions, as we saw Sunday and in previous games. His MASH unit of receivers haven’t helped his cause with drops, but then you have to question why Barkley ignored Alshon Jeffery for most of three quarters against the Packers. When he finally started throwing to his top receiver, large chunks of yards were being acquired. All 89 of Jeffery’s receiving yards came in the fourth quarter and put the Bears in position to send the game to overtime before Aaron Rodgers embarrassed the Bears defense (again).
I’m fine with the 2017 Bears deciding to see what they can make of a Barkley vs. Viable Rookie QB preseason competition. There’s a much bigger issue if the mentality is that other roster issues need the most work, the team can take a flyer on a project quarterback late in the draft and someone like Barkley can make due.
Should Barkley be back on the team next season rather than some other team giving him the Brock Osweiler treatment, he should push a rookie for the starting job and even act as apt tutor to someone who will take the reins for hopefully years to come.
But a certain quarterback of the future needs to be on the Bears roster next season. Matt Barkley, nice a story as he is for now, doesn’t seem like he’s it.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.