In April of 2016 just months after receiving approval to relocate from St. Louis to LA, the Los Angeles Rams made a blockbuster trade sending their first-round, second-round and two third-round picks in the 2016 NFL Draft and their first-round and third-round picks from the 2017 NFL Draft to the Tennessee Titans for the #1 overall pick in 2016 along with a fourth- and sixth-round pick.
They of course used that first selection of the draft to take QB Jared Goff out of Cal.
The early results were frightening.
A historically inept offense which was even extreme for the standards for then Head Coach Jeff Fisher saw Goff start the last seven games of the season going 0-7 and putting up a horrendous season statistically.
Year 2 was quite different.
Head Coach Sean McVay re-tooled the decision-making process for Goff pre-snap and overlayed a new offensive system. His changes along with an unavoidably important group of new Rams (LT Andrew Whitworth, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Robert Woods and WR Cooper Kupp, chiefly) along with a reinvigorated RB Todd Gurley helped Goff recalibrate his career trajectory.
But now comes the bigger challenge.
For Goff to really validate that trade and command the kind of respect across the league and among national observers, he has to step his game up individually. He did just that a year ago, but the climb gets steeper as you approach the top.
In a year with lofty expectations, no individual player has the capacity for improvement or a higher potential impact that improvement would have than Goff. His growth or lack thereof may not determine the Rams’ season, but would certainly determine the boundaries for success or failure based on his individual play.
And it’s not as if Goff needs to maximize all of his potential this year. He’s still just 23-years old (he’ll turn 24 in October). He’s only started 22 regular season games and a single playoff game. His career remains in front of him. And contractually, the Rams will have him through the 2020 season assuming they place the fifth-year option him which is a fair assumption.
But being good enough isn’t good enough at the top of the NFL. QB Kirk Cousins, QB Alex Smith and QB Case Keenum all switched teams this offseason all to major paydays. Cousins made the Pro Bowl in 2016 and signed a three-year, $84m deal with the Minnesota Vikings that included all of it guaranteed. Smith made the Pro Bowl three times with the Kansas City Chiefs but he’ll replace Cousins with Washington. And QB Case Keenum helped Minnesota get to the NFC Championship last year but Cousins’ arrival bumped him to the Denver Broncos.
There’s plenty of talent at the quarterback position in the NFL right now. We’re going to see players bounce up and down, make the Pro Bowl one year and not the next. There’s not a lot that’s certain outside of maybe New England Patriots QB Tom Brady and Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers being the game’s best.
And that’s the space Goff needs to exploit to validate the trade and help the Rams make the most of this Super Bowl or bust season and the window of potential success in front of them.
Goff was a Pro Bowl alternate last year. He didn’t have a single come-from-behind win, a signature 4th quarter performance the kind we ascribe to guys like Brady and Rodgers, the kind that elevates quarterbacks from being talented to being capable in the biggest moments.
Sure, sometimes that’s temporary. Some players have flashes of brilliance that can’t be maintained. Nick Foles helped the Philadelphia Eagles win the Super Bowl. But the Eagles didn’t invest their future in Nick Foles.
Goff’s career is in front of him. His potential is too. And if McVay can help him continue to grow and realize that potential on the field and ultimately do so after the regular season ends, we’ll begin talking about Goff the way Rams fans want to: as one of the game’s best.