Matt Barkley packed his locker last week and was unsure of what his role would be when he returns to that stall in the spring. This is an unfamiliar situation for Barkley after a rookie season that exposed Barkley to a role foreign throughout his football career.
Before coming to Philadelphia, Barkley started every game he played in high school and college. He still hopes to be an NFL starter. It doesn't look like that will happen in Philadelphia in the near future, and the more relevant question is whether Barkley is ready and capable of being Nick Foles' No. 2.
"You always want to be in a spot where you compete for a starting job," Barkley said. "I don't think you ever want to settle for being a backup. Sometimes that's just the way it is. I don't know what next year's going to look like. Still a lot of questions to be answered. But I think my job is to compete and strive for being the starting quarterback."
That is evidence of Barkley's confidence, which the Eagles can appreciate. But the reality is that there are three quarterbacks under contract for the Eagles: Foles, who threw for 27 touchdowns; Barkley, who threw four interceptions and no touchdowns this season; and G.J. Kinne, who has never thrown a pass in an NFL game.
Michael Vick is a free agent and is expected to search for a starting job elsewhere. The Eagles could still draft or sign a quarterback to be Foles' backup. But one year after the Eagles took the former Southern California standout in the fourth round of the draft, Barkley would be an intriguing possibility as the team's No. 2.
The Eagles remain high on Barkley. They studied him extensively last spring, even sending quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor to Los Angeles for a private workout. Barkley was rated one of the top 50 players on the Eagles' draft board. His glaring exclusion from the first three rounds prompted the Eagles to trade for the top pick on the final day of the draft to ensure they could select him.
The shoulder injury that limited Barkley leading up to April's draft affected him more than he admitted through the spring and the summer. Barkley confessed it bothered him during organized team activities and training camp. He said he was fine during the season, although his performance was uninspiring.
Barkley relieved Foles and Vick in two October losses. He completed 61 percent of his passes, but he struggled with interceptions and could not lead the Eagles to comebacks in either game. Neither situation was ideal for a rookie, and three partial appearances is too small of a sample size to form a lasting judgment.
"If you just watch those two games, I think it's a little biased view, a negative biased view of who I am," Barkley said. "If you look back at the player I am over the last four or eight years, I know I'm capable of a lot more. They were pretty unique situations."
Coach Chip Kelly did not sound discouraged about Barkley. Kelly has seen him in practice throughout the season, so his opinion is not formed entirely by what happened against the Cowboys and Giants. Barkley also received one-on-one instruction from Lazor before the 11 games he was inactive.
"Matt was awesome," Kelly said. "I'm excited to get a full offseason with Matt in here to really get a chance to work with him because I think he's got a skill set that's exciting when you see him, how the ball comes out of his hands, the decisions that he makes, and that's part of this whole deal."
Barkley said this offseason will be a "180 degree turn" from last summer, when he was not fully healthy and did not know what to expect. He has a better grasp on the Eagles' system. Foles' success is an indication that Kelly's offense does not require a mobile quarterback.
"It's a great offense for a passing quarterback," Barkley said. "You get the ball out quick. The play-action is fantastic. The things you do need to work on is the up-tempo, which right about now I feel comfortable with. Took a little getting used to, no doubt. But I feel comfortable with where I am."
Kelly said since he was hired that a team can never have enough quarterbacks. He repeated that the Eagles had two this season, and Vick and Foles both won games. If Vick goes elsewhere, the No. 2 job is wide open.
Barkley said he's learned from the Giants and Cowboys game and is a better quarterback than what fans saw in 2013. The Eagles better hope so, because Barkley might be a chinstrap away next season.
"I feel like I learned a lot, what it's like to be a quarterback in the NFL," Barkley said. "The ups and downs. Hopefully there's more ups next year."
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