CHICAGO -- Bears quarterback Matt Barkley proved again on Sunday he is a solid choice to open 2017 as the primary backup.
That is not an insult directed at Barkley. Not even close.
His in-season rise from off-the-radar player to respected/important weekly contributor has been one of the franchise’s best stories in the calendar year.
The Bears (3-11) are bad, yes, but they are not losing games because of their quarterback.
In a refreshing, but nonetheless depressing twist, Barkley consistently puts the Bears in position to win games, or at the very least reach overtime -- until John Fox’s team inevitably blows it.
The 26-year old quarterback turned the ball over four times (one turnover occurred on a Hail Mary before halftime) in Chicago’s 30-27 loss to Green Bay, but still passed for 362 yards and two touchdowns, even though he did not throw to Alshon Jeffery until the final quarter.
Still, without Barkley, the Bears had no shot of almost coming back to knock off the Packers (8-6). Barkley moves better than expected, routinely escaping pressure in the pocket to keep plays alive. Barkley doesn’t have the arm strength of Jay Cutler, but he certainly looks capable of making all the NFL throws.
We all know Barkley isn’t perfect. He occasionally suffers from lapses in judgment. In the first half at Detroit, Barkley appeared to have some issues reading the defense properly, but he never quit. That is a redeemable quality that will serve him well in the future.
“He just kept his poise out there,” Bears center Cody Whitehair said. “He really didn’t panic or anything. He just sat back in the pocket and did what he did. Matt’s a great player, and it doesn’t surprise us. We never got the feeling [after the interceptions] that he was down. He never lost confidence in himself. He just kept doing what he was doing.”
As of last week, Barkley -- a restricted free agent next year -- told reporters he hasn’t had dialogue with the team about matters beyond the final two games.
“No. Not yet. That’s not my conversation to have right now anyway. So, no,” Barkley said.
That is likely to change. There is no reason to chase Barkley off -- no matter what the Bears do in free agency or the draft at quarterback.
Assuming the Bears don’t blow up the entire operation, Barkley is a good quarterback to have on next year’s roster. He has ability (most importantly), knows the offense, stays out of trouble and appears to have earned the locker room’s respect.
Much work needs to be done at quarterback, but the Bears can take comfort in Barkley’s development.
Aside from Barkley, the front seven on defense and the emergence of a handful of younger players, the Bears don’t have much else to show from 2016.