What went wrong with Jared Goff in L.A., and why new Lions QB can get right in Detroit

Detroit Free Press

Tony Franklin had a few things to get off his chest, so when he called Jared Goff in mid-January, after Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay started John Wolford over Goff in a playoff game then publicly cast Goff aside as quarterback in his postseason news conference, Franklin spent most of their hour on the phone talking.

Goff’s former offensive coordinator at Cal, Franklin was angry about how callous McVay had been with the quarterback who took the Rams to the Super Bowl just two years earlier.

McVay, Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald, everyone seemed to get credit for the Rams’ magical season in 2018. Everyone but Goff.

And now that the Rams had fallen on hard times — as if a 10-6 record and second-round playoff exit required some type of FEMA assistance — it was Goff who seemed to be shouldering the blame.

None of it sat well with Franklin, who was met mostly with confusion on the other end of the phone call.

“The thing that I reminded him of in that conversation was, is that what had made him unique and special wasn’t the fact that he had the best arm and it wasn’t the fact that he could outrun anybody,” Franklin said. “It was very simple in that he was a really hard-nosed, tough guy that played the game old-school, the way that it was supposed to be played, and that he was a really good teammate.

“And that regardless of what the Rams did — because I thought it was really unusual the way that they were kind of bashing him publicly. I had not seen that in the NFL to where they just kind of threw him under the bus and rolled back over him, burnt him with some rubber tires. I had not seen that. And I told him, I said, ‘You know, this is one of those things that you were made for. You play better angry.’

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Franklin went over some of Goff’s games at Cal and reminded him how he was at his best when he felt slighted, for instance, when he rallied the Bears from 21 points down for a 48-46 victory over Arizona State in the final regular season game of his college career.

And he told Goff, who signed a four-year extension with the Rams in September of 2019 that is due to start this fall, to brace for a change of scenery this offseason.

That proved prophetic a few days later, when the Detroit Lions traded Matthew Stafford to the Rams for Goff and three draft picks, a third-rounder this year and first-round choices in 2022-23. The trade is expected to be announced Thursday.

In a text message after the trade was consummated, Franklin told Goff that not only was the deal the best thing for him, but that Detroit was the perfect place to go; a place where a laid-back California kid could find his inner Marshall Mathers (“I’m a huge Eminem fan,” Franklin said) in a city that is starved for a winner.

“I felt like that he needed to be angry,” Franklin said. “And not angry every day, not mad at the world, but I think that the chip on his shoulder, that the fact that these people are saying that you’re not very good — they can say they didn’t say that, but the reality of it is the whole world, that’s what they were telling the entire football world is that this guy’s not that good and we just want to get rid of him. And so I wanted him to draw from that and so what I wanted to do was just remind him that in the times that I have coached him, he was really good when he reached inside and drew that part out of himself.”

Goff, who is expected to be introduced by video conference later this week, did not return phone calls for this story. But in a February interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said the trade was best for everyone involved.

“Ultimately, they wanted to go in a different direction,” Goff told the Times. “As the quarterback, as the guy that’s at arguably the most important position on the field, if you’re in a place that you’re not wanted and they want to move on from you, the feeling’s mutual.

“You don’t want to be in the wrong place. It became increasingly clear that was the case. (The trade) is something that I’m hopeful is going to be so good for my career.”

Ego trip

No one could have guessed this is how Goff’s Rams career would end: at 26 years old, with the second most regular season victories over the past four seasons (behind only Tom Brady), two months after returning from thumb surgery to lead L.A. to a road wild-card win over the division rival Seattle Seahawks.

Not when the Rams traded up to make him the first pick of the 2016 NFL draft (when new Lions general manager Brad Holmes was their director of college scouting). Not when Goff was going blow for blow with Patrick Mahomes in an epic Monday night game in 2018 — a game the Rams won, 54-51. And not when he signed that massive $134 million extension 18 months ago.

Back then, it seemed like Goff would be a Ram for life. Sure, his team was coming off a disappointing Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots; the offense managed a measly three points.

But Goff was an ascending player who had just thrown for 4,600 yards and still was approaching the prime of his career.

The Rams, though, struggled in 2019, missing the playoffs with an offense that averaged eight fewer points per game than it had a season earlier.

Gurley’s knees were shot, and as defenses caught up to McVay’s offense, the young coach put more on his quarterback’s shoulders. Goff still threw for a bunch of yards that fall, topping 4,600 yards for the second straight season. But his interceptions ticked up, his completion percentage went down and the offense sputtered in late-season losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys.

Goff’s production tumbled again in 2020, and by the end of the season, McVay had lost enough faith in his quarterback that it became clear to people both in and outside the organization a change was coming.

“I think there was a four-game stretch (last season) where he had 10 turnovers and I think that’s where Sean McVay kind of threw his hands in the air and then, basically, if you were to go back and look at the articles, he kind of called Goff out and said, ‘Hey, our quarterback can’t turn over the football,’” said former NFL quarterback Jim Miller, now an analyst on SiriusXM NFL radio. “And if you go back even further, I think in a 39-game stretch, he had 32 turnovers in 39 games. So you can expect about a turnover a game. And Jared has to correct that.”

McVay spoke haltingly about Goff late in the season, even after Goff admirably popped his dislocated right thumb back in place to finish a game against the Seahawks.

Goff underwent surgery the next day, Wolford played the regular season finale, and McVay started Wolford in the Rams’ playoff win over Seattle, only to turn to Goff again after Wolford was injured on L.A.’s second series.

Asked after the season if Goff still was his starting quarterback, McVay offered a tepid, “He’s the quarterback right now.”

Goff told the Times the Rams never explained how or why soured on him, and that lack of communication is the biggest issue Franklin and others had with the dissolution of their marriage.

“The biggest egos in the world are in coaching,” Franklin said. “Every level you go up, the ego gets a little bit bigger. So you have a head coach and a general manager who were praised beyond belief for a few years. All these guys were the saviors. ‘Look what they’ve done. They’ve come in, they’ve done this, they’ve done that. Coach McVay is a genius. He can remember plays from when he was 12 years old. He knows every play call on second-and-7 since birth, and blah, blah, blah.’ And then all of a sudden he gets his butt handed to him in the Super Bowl by the real genius in (Bill) Belichick, and then the next couple years they’re still pretty good, but they’re not what they were and he’s not who he was.

“And so I think that when that happens, you got a decision to make and that is, either you adjust or you don’t. And the thing that confused me about the whole thing is like, it’s almost like that they didn’t even know who Jared was with the fact that you keep reading about, ‘Well, this is all McVay’s system. McVay has done this, McVay has done that.’ Well, the thing was is that they weren’t doing what Jared’s really good at, which is getting in the shotgun and letting him go through progressions and letting him throw the football around. He was under center, faking jet sweeps, play-action passes. …

So me being an outsider looking in, this is never from a conversation with Jared, that’s the thing about it. He never spoke — not one time did he ever speak in a negative way towards Coach McVay or the ownership or anything else. (Goff) always took responsibility, he always said, ‘You know, I got to play better.’ So that’s the thing that is disheartening to me about how they handled it. Not him, he handled it like a grown ass man. To me, they handled it like a bunch of guys with egos that were tired of the press saying all of a sudden maybe they weren’t as smart as they thought they were.”

McVay told reporters last month he could have done more to help Goff and that blaming the Rams’ offensive struggles “exclusively on the quarterback” is an “unfair narrative.”

“There’s a lot of things that when I self-reflect, I certainly wish I was better for him in some instances and those are things that I think you have to acknowledge, move forward and make sure that you learn from every mistake that you make,” McVay said. “Certainly, I’m not going to run away from the things that I could have been better for him as a leader and as a coach. But there was a lot of really good things that occurred from ‘17 and on that I think we can eventually really have a much better appreciation for. We have had good conversations that were healthy and I think we were both able to both communicate openly and honestly with one another, but those details I’d prefer to keep between us.”

‘He can be fantastic’

Weeks after the trade, Goff was headed back to the lab to work with his personal quarterback coach, Adam Dedeaux of 3DQB.

Dedeaux said Goff, who was raised in the Bay Area — his father, Jerry, played professional baseball before settling into a career as a firefighter — and has spent his entire football career playing home games in California, is genuinely excited for a fresh start in Detroit.

“I don’t think his confidence is shaken at all,” Dedeaux said. “We talked immediately about an hour after the trade went down and he’s like, ‘I’m excited. I’m excited. This is great.’ This is going to be a fresh opportunity, a new opportunity to go do something that like, hey, I mean, think about it. He’s a California kid, he got drafted by the Rams. He’s never left. And I think there was a part of this like, ‘Hey, this is a whole new ballgame for me.’”

Goff’s offseason training program covers both the mental and physical sides of the game.

He and Dedeaux go over notes weekly during the season to identify trouble areas to target in spring — one point of emphasis this offseason is mobility — and Dedeaux said he encouraged Goff to talk to his old Rams teammates to find out where things went wrong in L.A.

“Failure is feedback,” Dedeaux said. “The more feedback we get, the more data points we have to draw from, the more opportunity we have to get better.”

This offseason, Goff also has a new playbook to learn, one the Lions have told him he will have input in and one he will try and digest with his new receivers, who he plans to bring to 3DQB’s California campus for workouts in the coming months.

The Lions have not committed to Goff beyond this season, with Holmes saying the team will consider quarterbacks with the No. 7 pick in the draft.

But Miller said he believes Goff can be more than a bridge quarterback for a franchise that made the postseason just three times in Stafford’s 12 seasons.

“I think you can build around him,” Miller said. “He’s already proven he can take a team to a Super Bowl. If you surround him with good talent, I think he can win a ton of games. But he’s still young in his growth. If he corrects that one issue that we just talked about, his turnovers, I think he can be fantastic.”

Former Rams defensive end Michael Brockers, who is set to be traded to the Lions on Wednesday, told TMZ that Stafford is a “level up” as a quarterback from Goff.

But Dedeaux, whose client list includes Stafford, Brady, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees, said Goff and Stafford are similar in many ways.

Both were No. 1 overall draft picks; the Lions took Stafford with the first pick of the 2009 draft. Both are revered for their toughness by teammates. And both are down-to-earth, reserved personalities off the field who do their best to avoid the limelight. Goff was known to show up to nonrevenue sporting events during his time at Cal and lived with some of his old high school friends in L.A.

“I’ve been with both of them for a couple of years now, and in terms of arm talent, yeah, Matt Stafford can do things that nobody in the league can do, if you ask me,” Dedeaux said. “But in terms of arm strength and ability to drive balls and put balls on the money, Jared throws as tight a spiral as anybody in the league. And when he’s right, you’re not going to see any drop off in terms of what Detroit fans have (been) accustomed to seeing with Matt. Jared’s going to be able to go out and light up teams just the way he did, and you’ll see. I know one of the things Matt, obviously he had 30-something come-from-behind victories. Jared, similarly, he can execute a two-minute drill as good as anybody, his urgency on the ball and the ability to succeed in the drop-back pass game, I think you’re going to see a lot of really positive things out of him that you’ve seen.

While Goff’s play admittedly slipped the past two seasons, Dedeaux, like Franklin, said Goff should benefit from playing in more of a drop-back passing game in Detroit and that the new Lions quarterback is closer to the player who lit up the Chiefs for 413 yards in 2018 than the one who had struggled with turnovers last year.

“He’s excited to be in Detroit and cut it lose,” Dedeaux said. “I think his arm absolutely plays. He hasn’t lost one bit of ability in that way, and I think his confidence going into this offseason of just kind of retooling and working on a new offense, I mean, that’s going to be the big thing.

“I just think there’s another level of ownership for him to be able to walk into this situation, start fresh, take on a new playbook, work with new weapons. And I think it’s a huge opportunity for him.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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