No matter what he does, it seems that Matt Barkley cannot break away from Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow.
He pulls in six figures a year, shares a surname with a hoops great and looks like a love interest from The Mindy Project. He is Matt Barkley (no relation to Sir Charles) and, at a glance, he would seem overly qualified to challenge for the title of the NFL’s most sympathetic figure. Yet he receives votes anyway. Why? Because he is a quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, a position that’s pretty fluid at the moment.
The biggest threat to Barkley’s future job security isn’t his attitude; since breaking into the Eagles’ locker room in 2013 as a fourth-round pick out of USC, Barkley has remained a background feature to rival the very carpet underfoot. Nor is his performance a major issue for him, although the four interceptions against zero touchdowns he’s thrown in career four limited appearances doesn’t exactly scream, Start me! (Counterpoint: He’s still young.) No, Barkley’s problem is the offseason itself—a time when Chip Kelly, the Eagles coach and shadow general manager, can’t help but yield to his inner croupier.
In the last two months, Kelly has let top receiver Jeremy Maclin walk out the door and straight into the waiting arms of ex-Eagles coach Andy Reid, now in Kansas City; shipped LeSean McCoy (the league’s leading rusher in 2013) to Buffalo and replaced him with Cowboys free agent DeMarco Murray (the league’s leading rusher in '14); and overpaid (six years, $25 million in guarantees) for former Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell—the Ringo Starr of the Legion of Boom. Incidentally, Kelly also traded in Nick Foles (a third-round selection who threw 27 touchdowns against two interceptions in 2013 and has won 62.5% of his starts) for Sam Bradford (a former number one overall pick who has played two full seasons in the five he’s been in the league and is coming off his second ACL injury).
But those moves, bold though they were, became footnotes to the Eagles hectic offseason the moment the team signed Tim Tebow—the messianic, quarterback-like prospect that the Broncos, Jets and Patriots couldn’t find a permanent use for; the Heisman trophy winner who spent last year on TV as a college football analyst. Curiously, the Eagles didn’t hire Tebow to run the Wildcat and praise Jesus, or to serve as a “camp arm” as No. 2 QB Mark Sanchez recently suggested. No, the Eagles hired Tebow to be another quarterback—just like Barkley. In fact, it seems like no matter what Barkley does, he somehow remains stuck in the middle of Sanchez and Tebow.
Sanchez has been the bigger bother to Barkley—first a predecessor to Barkley at USC, then just another guy after Barkley shattered a slew of the Trojans’ passing records. What’s more, Barkley’s college success came after coach Lane Kiffin tried and failed to recruit Tebow to Troy. “We brought him out here and tried to sign him,” the coach told SI back in 2011. “He and his dad came out on an official visit and spent a weekend with us. I think there is a lot of comparison between [Barkley and Tebow]. They’re both phenomenal student-athletes and their maturity is well beyond their years.”
Like Tebow, Barkley is deeply religious and committed to service work. In December of 2010, while USC was serving a NCAA ban from postseason play, he spent Christmas break with his family in Nigeria working in an orphanage, building a water tower and visiting a prison, where he handed out gifts. “Overall, it was just a very fulfilling trip,” he told SI.
Also like Tebow, Barkley is fiercely loyal. He probably should’ve quit school while he was ahead instead of staying at USC, which was under NCAA probation for much of Barkley’s time there. Had Barkley bolted after his third season, he very well may have been a top-10 pick in the 2012 draft. But instead of pulling a Sanchez, who famously drew the ire of Trojans coach Pete Carroll when he elected to turn pro early, Barkley stayed in school in hopes of competing for a BCS championship ... and injured his throwing shoulder, dooming the 7–6 Trojans to appear in the Sun Bowl. His bad luck turned him into a bargain for the Eagles, who selected him with the 98th pick in the 2013 draft, stashing him behind Foles and Michael Vick.
When Vick became a free agent and left town at the end of the 2013 season, Barkley seemed destined to move up the Eagles' depth chart. But of course, there was Sanchez, noted Butt Fumbler, moving into a fresh locker room stall for 2014. And this season, it's the mechanically wanting Tebow making himself at home. The truly frustrating bit for Barkley mustn’t be going from being in line for a possible promotion—assuming Bradford's crippling contract preserves his status as an unquestioned starter and Sanchez remains an uneven performer—to once again being treated like the least desirable pick between Sanchez and Tebow, the comi-tragic duo that guided the Jets to six wins in 2012. No, the truly frustrating bit must be the uncertainty of how the rest of his time in Philly will play out.
For now, Barkley is on the trading block. He was there earlier this offseason while the Eagles were seemingly trying to put together a draft deal to grab one of Kelly’s former Oregon protégés, No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota. And Barkley was priced to move when the Eagles signed Tebow. With every passing day, his situation only seems to grow more dire.
If Kelly’s offseason maneuvering are to be credited for anything so far, it should be for making a third-stringer’s lot genuinely compelling—although Barkley would probably prefer for his third pro season to open on a cliffhanger. That said, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he wound up the odd man out between Sanchez and Tebow. At least then he’d have another opportunity to show that he can really be his own man.