The best that can be said about Matt Barkley is that he has been better than anyone had reason to expect. He came off the Bears’ practice squad with Jimmy Clausen warning labels and played at times like Brian Hoyer having a good day.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t follow that he should be the Bears’ starting quarterback next season – or even that he should be given the chance to compete for the job.
That was true even before he threw five interceptions against Washington on Saturday.
The Bears need to find a young quarterback they can build around. Please don’t ask me who that is. Please don’t ask me who out there is better than Jay Cutler or Barkley, as if not having a replacement’s name on the tip of the tongue is reason to stick with the status quo. That’s not my job. That’s general manager Ryan Pace’s job. It was his job to notice Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. Instead, he and his team of scouts noticed West Virginia linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski.
Good quarterbacks are hard to find. That’s why good quarterbacks get paid so much, and it’s why so many coaches without good quarterbacks get fired (though, oddly, not as many GMs). I never thought former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo was wise to trade for Cutler and all his challenges/baggage, but I certainly understood the impulse to do it. Find a good quarterback, and the battle is half won.
In the Bears’ case, it’s a little more complicated than that. Find a good, young quarterback and hope that the coaching staff knows how to nurture him from acorn to oak tree. It’s a huge question mark, given the fact that, historically, the Bears wouldn’t know a quarterback if one came up to them wearing a “Hi, I’m a Quarterback” nametag.
You say five Barkley starts is too small a sample size — six if you count the season finale in Minnesota on Sunday? The Bears don’t have time to wait around to see if he can be more than he has shown. Barkley, in his third season in the league, needed to be great to convince Bears coaches and front-office types that he was worth a shot at the starting job in 2017. He hasn’t been.
There have been moments of excellence, which has affected the eyesight of people who should know a backup quarterback when they see one.
Barkley usually throws a nice, accurate ball, and he can find an open receiver, but few of his passes have NFL zip to them. The thing he had going for him heading into Saturday’s game was his coolness and his ability to avoid mistakes. Then he channeled Bad Jay Cutler against Washington. One interception came when he threw deep into triple coverage. Another came when he was being sacked. Not good.
“One you want to forget,’’ he said after the game. “But there’s still a lot to learn from.”
That sounded almost Marc Trestman-esque. After a bad performance, nobody wants to hear about a player’s continuing education. Can you think of one person, outside of Barkley’s extended family, who is glad he intends to learn from his mistakes? Did that make any Bears fan feel better? It might not be his fault that his NFL career hasn’t come close to the promise he showed at 18, but he’s 26 now. If he isn’t a mega-talent, there isn’t time to stand by while he learns. Certainly not for the Bears.
Tony Romo’s name has come up in media speculation about the Bears’ plans at quarterback next season. After getting injured early in the season, he lost his job to Prescott, who has a 12-2 record and a 103.2 passer rating as a starter for Dallas. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is very close to Romo, who has spent his 12-year career with the team. Although it’s business, would Jones really stick the aging veteran with the Bears rather than with a team like the Broncos, who are a good quarterback away from being great again?
If we’re talking about former Eastern Illinois quarterbacks, 25-year-old Patriot Jimmy Garoppolo would make much more sense for the Bears’ situation than the 36-year-old Romo. He has been nothing but good in his limited relief of Tom Brady in New England.
Barkley backers might say there’s very little difference between their guy and Garoppolo in terms of proof. But always remember that it was the Patriots, with the 199th pick overall, who found Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. They’re pretty good at this drafting thing. The Bears? They took kicker Paul Edinger 25 spots earlier.