Yesterday, the Atlanta Falcons signed QB Matt Ryan to a massive contract extension at $150m over five years that marks the first NFL contract to hit the $30m average per year mark.
Many obviously pointed to the contract as a jumping off point for the Green Bay Packers as they look to re-sign QB Aaron Rodgers to a long-term deal as well. And for the Los Angeles Rams, fans remain hopeful that at some point we’re going to #paytheman (as in DL Aaron Donald). But the Ryan deal brought to mind a contract discussion that I’m not sure I’ve seen brought up anywhere in any real detail: the re-signing of QB Jared Goff.
Goff is still on his rookie contract that expires after the 2019 season, a contract that places him 28th in average per year and 22nd in average guaranteed per year. Suffice to say, he’s not being paid much compared to the market for starting quarterbacks. So as we look at a market that’s going to pay Rodgers somewhere in the ballpark of Ryan’s $30 APY with $20m guaranteed APY while Donald hits $20m+, what is Goff worth?
There are three major factors in play to consider before we get to the contracts around the league of late that will set the boundaries for an extension for Goff.
His individual performance
Goff’s rookie season was abysmal. Pushed into action halfway through Head Coach Jeff Fisher’s final season while overseeing one of the worst offenses of the last 30 years, Goff went 0-7 playing just a single half of good football and leaving a lot to be desired. Last year with a new coaching staff and plenty of new personnel in the door, Goff put together a very strong sophomore season making the Pro Bowl as an alternate commanding one of the best offenses in the league finishing 11th in passing yards per game and tying for fifth in the NFL with 28 passing touchdowns.
Were it not for a wave of front page personnel acquisitions that have set 2018 up as a Super Bowl or bust season, Goff would be the main storyline for this year. His development is front and center in the overall direction of the team as a 23-year old franchise QB. But much of that development is yet unseen.
He has yet to guide the team on a deep playoff run or single-handedly take over a game late, the kind of things we’ve see Rodgers and Ryan and other top QBs do on a frequent basis. Should Goff turn out those kinds of moments and ascend unquestionably into the top tier of NFL quarterbacks, a massive contract extension would be undeniable. While it would impact the salary cap more than any other deal the Rams could offer, the opportunity to stabilize the position with one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks would be the most inviting opportunity in the sport.
But he has to become that kind of QB first.
As we near that decision point in the 2020 offseason (assuming he isn’t franchise tagged or re-signed before then), Goff’s individual performance level will be the primary marker by which we assess whether or not the Rams should re-sign him and to what monetary level.
The team around him
Goff and RB Todd Gurley: 2016 vs. 2017. It’s a lesson in team-building. But there’s also a message in the importance, and thus value, of surrounding talent. And much of the logic often offered by fans suggests that the value of the surrounding talent is greater than the individual talents of Goff and Gurley.
Consider the support structure. An offensively-minded head coach with a penchant for making things easy on his quarterback and balancing targets across the passing attack? Check. An improved offensive line that can both protect the QB to operate a deep passing game and open holes in the running game? Check. A talented WR corps that isn’t too top heavy forcing secondaries to account for threats at multiple levels? Check.
So if the environment is all that strong...how much worse would the alternative be? If you’re set at OL and WR and your coaching staff is really that good, what is Goff’s wins above replacement? As I mentioned above, his performance over the next two years will determine things more than anything, but there’s an angle here to consider as well as depending on how the roster looks two offseasons from now. If the Rams re-sign WR Brandin Cooks to a long-term deal, you’ve locked in your WR corps. The offensive line is going to look radically different, which is the real question mark. But either way it develops, it’s going to raise questions about Goff’s individual contributions within the scope of the system.
The NFL market in 2020 and the Rams’ cap situation
We’re coming out of an offseason in which the Rams splashed to add DL Ndamukong Suh while re-signing CB Nickell Robey-Coleman and franchise tagging S Lamarcus Joyner. Trades of ILB Alec Ogletree and OLB Robert Quinn cleared a ton of money off the future books as the team considers a HUGE swath of starting players with expiring deals next year.
So who knows how things look in two years. Do the Rams need to spend on offensive line talent in free agency? Consider that both CB Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib are free agents in 2020 as well as Gurley. It’s very, very difficult to see what things look like that far out and what shape the roster is in.
And after two seasons of football, we’ll have to see what the QB market looks like and how Goff’s peers stack up against him.
The QB market
We’ve got a couple of recent deals that have gotten us to this point.
Ryan’s deal is obviously the new standard at the top of the market, but remember that the San Francisco 49ers signed QB Payme Alotofdough to a five-year, $137.5m deal in February with just under $50m guaranteed. Yes, contracts are given to players on what they’re expected to do not what they’ve done, but to give a contract that big to a QB with just five starts is just incredibly risky. Meanwhile, QB Kirk Cousins signed with the Minnesota Vikings on a three-year, $84m deal with all of it (all of it!) guaranteed. Teams now have to consider the scales on which one side offers you a larger deal with less guaranteed and the potential to get out of it near the end versus a shorter deal that locks in more money but sticks you with a guy for the duration of the contract. Consider that the Niners can cut Alotofdough after the 2019 season and lose just $8.4m to dead money spread out over three seasons while recouping $72.1m in cap savings.
And while next year’s QB free agent class won’t be an option to get starting talent save for the most desperate of teams, the 2020 market is absolutely loaded which means we’re going to see more deals that continue to develop our standards for the market. Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, New York Giants QB Eli Manning, Los Angeles Chargers Philip Rivers and New England Patriots QB Tom Brady will all be looking at retirement up against perhaps a similar deal to what the New Orleans Saints just cut with QB Drew Brees. And while the last two drafts have flooded the NFL with a bunch of new talents at the position from which we’ll have to see who pans out and who doesn’t, you’ve got a crop of those guys entering the middle of their careers like Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz, Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston, Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota, Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott and Goff who are all playing their way toward new deals. For how much and with who is the question.
Two years in the NFL is a long, long time.
We just don’t know how we’ll look at Goff after the 2018 and 2019 seasons. His play will determine the majority of it, but his surrounding cast and the overall NFL landscape will have a significant impact as well.
But the sheer price of the decision makes it the most important one the franchise is facing over the next 24 months.