This is the next in a series analyzing the Buffalo Bills’ most significant questions entering the offseason. Part 10: Are the Bills set at backup quarterback with Matt Barkley?
Matt Barkley never doubted himself.
The Buffalo Bills’ backup quarterback did, however, wonder why he was out of the NFL for as long as he was.
“I’ve been cut. I've been injured. I've been third string, starter and a backup in the league – you name it in this league and I’ve done it,” Barkley said. “So when you're sitting on your couch and guys are playing, you're like 'is this really for me? I thought I was that good, but I'm here.’ I had to keep reminding myself that I could play.”
Barkley got all the validation he needed Nov. 11. It was on that day he led a shockingly easy win over the New York Jets, going 15 of 25 for 232 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-10 romp.
“To be able to go out and play against the Jets like that, I knew I was meant to do this, and that was further confirmation of that,” Barkley said shortly before the conclusion of the 2018 season.
That proved to be his only game action last season, but that start was an important one -- for both Barkley and the Bills. The team signed him to a two-year contract extension before the Week 16 game against New England. All of a sudden, a team that had one quarterback under contract in early April 2017 has an established pecking order heading into 2019: Josh Allen, Barkley and fellow veteran Derek Anderson, who also re-signed on a one-year deal.
That means a full offseason in the same offensive system – a rare luxury around here.
“I haven't really been in a place like enough to get that cohesiveness with the receivers or with the offense, like I had in college,” Barkley said. “Hopefully this is a place that can happen. You get to know your guys and you're able to take the offense to the next level.”
Barkley, 28, is on his fifth NFL team since being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round in 2013 out of Southern California. The Bills were the only team that called him for a workout after he was released by the Bengals in the preseason with an injury settlement.
“First of all, Matt had a good preseason and people didn't pay attention to that in Buffalo, which they wouldn't need to. He was in Cincinnati,” Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said. “But he did a good job. He had an unfortunate knee injury, but maybe fortunate for us that they had to injury settle with him, so he was available and we stayed in touch with his agent.
“I had never been around Matt, but he came in and was a pro. Learned everything. If we wanted him to be third quarterback, he was doing that. If we wanted him to be the backup or the starter, he played all the roles and did them well. He got that one chance against the Jets, and that went well for him, but it was more than that.”
It's the way that Barkley meshed with Allen – the team’s quarterback of the future – that made him such a good fit, Beane said.
“Just the vibe in the room,” Beane said. “He was a very good fit for everything we were looking for, and I thought he had earned the right to come back. He'll compete to be the backup and we'll see what happens.”
Barkley’s contract is a potential bargain for the Bills, with salary-cap hits of $1.775 million in 2019 and $2.025 million in 2020 – virtual peanuts for an NFL quarterback. Even if Barkley were to be beat out by Anderson for the backup job – which looks unlikely on the surface – he’d be affordable as a third quarterback. The Bills’ 2018 season showed that’s something worth considering.
“To be an asset to any organization is huge -- whether that's on the field or off,” he said. “If I can be both, then that's even better. So I'm happy that I stayed ready, that rehab went well. To have that confidence back and then to be able to have the room like we do, where we're helping Josh and growing week by week ... we're in a good place. I've been able to learn a bunch from ‘D.A.’ and Josh and (offensive coordinator Brian) Daboll. I think Josh can say the same. It's just a good, conducive learning environment where we're all getting better.”