Over two years ago, the Los Angeles Rams made a splash move and pushed all of their chips into the middle of the table when they traded away Jared Goff and draft picks for Matthew Stafford.
Before I get started here, I want to make one thing clear, and it’s extremely important. The point of this column isn’t to say that the Rams shouldn’t have traded for Matthew Stafford. Sean McVay and Les Snead got a Lombardi Trophy out of it and they obviously wouldn’t trade that for anything. The Rams-Lions trade is the rare case where a trade works out in the way that it was supposed to for both teams. At the end of the day, the Rams got their Super Bowl win with Stafford and the Lions have a young core that they can build around, led by Goff.
There are a few underlying points here however that are worth discussing that are completely separate from the trade. The first is the general impatience when it comes to young quarterbacks in the NFL. If they don’t succeed almost immediately, young quarterbacks in the current NFL landscape are given the bust label by fans and the media. That wasn’t the case even 20 years ago when rookie quarterbacks were still allowed to sit behind a veteran quarterback and develop.
The second point here is the importance quarterback position overall, especially in the Shanahan-McVay system. As we’ve seen over the past few years, as long as the environment around the quarterback isn’t volatile and is stable, a quarterback can have success. The 49ers have made it to NFC Championship games with Jimmy Garroppolo and last season with Brock Purdy. Neither quarterback are the most talented in the NFL, but they both were able to execute the system in the environment that the 49ers have built around them.
Finally, the last point worth discussing here is the future that the Rams have built. Stafford is heading into his age 35 season and coming off of two pretty significant injuries between the concussions suffered last season and his back injury. In all likelihood, the Rams probably have two or three more years of Stafford. This issue here is a big reason there is so much support in the fanbase when it comes to the Rams tanking for Caleb Williams. Williams is not only an elite quarterback prospect, but he gives the Rams a future at the position that Stafford doesn’t. Meanwhile, Goff is heading into his age 29 season and hasn’t suffered the same injuries that Stafford has.
All of these points are separate from the actual trade itself which I’ve already said was a good move for both sides. There are just a few points worth discussing now that we are two years removed from the trade.
Impatience at the Quarterback Position
In the first five years of his career, Dan Fouts threw 34 touchdowns to 57 interceptions. This was all over the course of 43 starts. Fouts never won a Super Bowl with the Chargers, but he did end up with a Hall of Fame career. However, it’s hard to see Fouts surviving in today’s landscape.
That same level of patience is rarely given in the modern NFL.
It’s fair to wonder whether or not Goff earned that same level of patience. In today’s climate, we want results and we want them now. From 2017 to 2018, Goff ranked seventh in the NFL in adjusted EPA per play and helped lead the Rams to consecutive playoff appearances which included a trip to the Super Bowl.
His level of course fell in 2018 to 2019 where Goff dropped to 25th. In 2020, he led the NFL in turnovers. While Goff’s level dropped, so did the situation around him. In 2019, the Rams offensive line ranked 31st according to Pro Football Focus.
In 2021, PFF did a study on positional aging curves based on PFF WAR. Looking at the graph below, a quarterback’s prime tends to land between ages 24-32.
PFF’s Timo Riske said,
“For quarterbacks, there is an argument to be made that when you have a good quarterback in his early 30s, there is some reason to believe he is good enough to defy the general aging curve and still generate much more value than even a replacement with a favorable outcome.”
It’s harsh to say that the Rams “gave up” on Goff, but they did trade him away following his age 26 season. That’s young for a quarterback and right in the middle of their prime. It’s worth noting that Matt Ryan didn’t have his first truly “elite” year until his age 27 season.
The Rams sped up the development of the quarterback position to get a player who was already developed in Stafford. However, two years after making the trade, the Rams already have one eye looking towards the future while the Lions are considering handing Goff an extension.
Importance of the Quarterback Under Center
If there is one thing that we’ve learned over the last few years it’s that quarterback situation matters. Too often, wins are taken as a QB stat rather than a team stat. A quarterback can have a significant effect on a game and result, but they are still heavily reliant on the team around them.
Geno Smith struggled with the New York Jets, but in a better situation with the Seattle Seahawks, he was arguably a top-10 quarterback. Daniel Jones went from arguable draft bust and turnover machine to top-15 quarterback and throwing only five interceptions last season with Brian Daboll.
As mentioned earlier, Shanahan has found success with a few average quarterbacks in his system because the system and situation around them was set up a certain way.
Stafford never had a playoff win in Detroit and because of that, it was a dark mark on his legacy. In his first season with the Rams, Stafford led four consecutive playoff wins that ended in a Super Bowl.
The biggest example of situation playing a major role in quarterback success is comparing Goff and Stafford in 2021. A year in which Goff had the best offensive line in the NFL, he and Stafford put up similar EPA numbers. To no surprise, the success of the quarterback in the McVay’s system is heavily dependent on the offensive line.
Might be the last one of these this year— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) November 21, 2022
(hope Stafford is okay) pic.twitter.com/IFHdXEXAKB
Last year, JB Scott asked the question, “How many quarterbacks would have won the Super Bowl with the Rams?” It’s an intriguing question and interesting exercise. Of course talent matters, but where is that line? Given his success with the Rams when the situation was ideal as it was in 2021, could Goff have been added to that list?
There are only a handful of quarterbacks that could have made the throw that Stafford did to Cooper Kupp against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the ‘no-look’ pass to Kupp in the Super Bowl. Those are the throws that go beyond the stats and are nearly impossible to measure.
What is the Rams’ Future with Matthew Stafford?
After a 5-12 season that saw Stafford suffer multiple concussions and finally get shutdown with a back injury, the future looks especially murky.
Let’s say for a minute that the Rams don’t win the Super Bowl in 2021 with Goff, but make the NFC Championship game and come up just short. Are we asking the same questions about the Rams being in contention for Caleb Williams that we currently are with Stafford following a disastrous 2022?
Given the level of prospect that Williams is, the answer is probably still yes. After all, there’s a reason that the Rams felt like they needed to upgrade from Goff at the quarterback position. It is worth noting however, with the opportunity to draft a quarterback in April, the Lions opted to stick with Goff.
It is an interesting conversation though when discussing what the Rams’ future would be right now with Goff compared to their current future with Stafford. Would Goff have given them a longer championship window? Currently with Stafford, that window likely closes after 2025. At that point, Donald might retire, Kupp will be 32, and Stafford 37. With Goff, the Rams would have had approximately four to five more years at the quarterback position.
Five more years of Goff possibly opens up the opportunity to build a second core of players for a Super Bowl run. Meanwhile, with Stafford, once this group retires, the Rams may be starting back at square one. At this point, the window is open until 2025. After that, the Rams enter a pretty big unknown.
It’s difficult to know whether or not the Rams would have ever won a Super Bowl with Jared Goff under center. Following below average seasons in 2020 and 2021, Goff was back in the top-10 in adjusted EPA per play in 2022. Goff ranked sixth at 0.194 which was also his highest mark since 2018. Would he have won a Super Bowl or just finished with a Matt Ryan-esque career? There’s nothing wrong with Ryan’s career as he is a fringe Hall of Fame quarterback. However, Stafford will certainly take his Super Bowl ring and ride off into the sunset.
All eyes will be on Goff as the Lions are the favorites to win the NFC North and take a pretty big leap next season.
The key there with Goff’s recent success is that with the draft picks that the Lions have acquired, they have built an environment for Goff to succeed. Having Ben Johnson as the offensive coordinator certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Again, the question here isn’t whether or not the Rams should have made the trade for Stafford or whether or not it was a bad trade. It’s simply a thought exercise on the overall quarterback landscape in the NFL and how the position is talked about.
It is interesting to think about what would have happened if the Rams had been more patient with Goff rather than moved on after his age 26 season and still in his prime. At the end of the day, they got their Super Bowl ring and likely won’t think twice about the decision that was made.