Before he made the bold move to trade up 14 spots for the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL draft, Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead pulled his director of college scouting aside and asked what he thought of the move, and if there was a player there worth taking.
“He didn’t speak a specific name or he didn’t throw out any other QBs, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’d do it for Goff,’” then-Rams director of college scouting and current Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes recalled Friday. “And he just said, ‘All right, thanks,’ and just walked off. I’m not sure if that was a turning point to really convince him to do it, but I do know that a lot of us were on board with making the move to trade up, and we were very excited then, and we’re still excited now after this recent trade.”
Holmes scouted Goff personally at Cal, and in advocating for the trade signaled that he considered Goff a franchise quarterback.
Five years later, the biggest question facing the Lions as they embark on a wholesale franchise rebuild is to what extent Holmes’ opinion has changed.
Holmes said Friday that Goff was a key component of the deal he struck with his old team in January and that became official Thursday. The Lions also receive a 2021 third-round pick and first-round choices in 2022-23 in the deal.
But in anointing Goff “our starting quarterback” for this season, Holmes stopped short of committing to the Lions’ biggest offseason addition as a part of their long-term future.
The Lions have the No. 7 pick in April’s draft, and Holmes has been consistent in saying he’s willing to consider a quarterback in Round 1.
“I know a lot of people talk about the picks, but a lot of it was Jared,” Holmes said. “That’s the part that sometimes gets kind of, I don’t want to say lost, but it’s like, OK, we can (get a) third-round pick and two ones, but to have Jared? And again, it’s like I said earlier, his résumé speaks for itself, he’s a proven winner, so for him to compete for the starting quarterback position and winning the starting quarterback position, I definitely expect him to reclaim that status.”
Goff’s status has dimmed league-wide since the Rams traded two first-, two second- and two third-round picks for the right to take him (over Carson Wentz) in 2016.
Goff took over as the Rams’ starter midway through his rookie season; after taking some understandable first-year lumps, he blossomed under new coach Sean McVay a year later.
MAN ON A MISSION: Goff says Lions are not in rebuild mode, ‘I plan to put us over the top’
That second year, his first with McVey, Goff led the Rams to 11 wins and a wildcard playoff appearance, their first in 13 years. The following season, he had L.A. in the Super Bowl.
But the Rams managed just three points in their Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots, and when the offense sputtered again in 2019-20 — and with Goff approaching the start of a humongous contract extension — L.A. went shopping for a quarterback swap and found a willing partner in the Lions.
Goff said he was “disappointed” when he first learned of the trade, but quickly realized a fresh start in Detroit was in everyone’s best interests.
“I was disappointed for 2 minutes, and then I spoke to these guys on the phone and it was like a breath of fresh air,” he said. “Being able to hear from Dan (Campbell), being able to hear from Brad, being able to hear from A-Lynn (offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn). People around the organization. Rod (Wood), Sheila (Ford Hamp), everyone. It was immediate, ‘OK, this is where I’m supposed to be. This is how it’s supposed to go down.’”
Holmes disputed the characterization that Goff’s play has dropped off the past two seasons.
“I’m not sure if I’m following where he actually dropped off. So, I’m not sure about the ‘get back,’” he said.
But the dual reality is that the Rams would not have been in the trade market for a quarterback if that was not the case, and that if Goff is going to revitalize his career, it likely will happen in Detroit.
The Lions are giving Goff input in the offense Lynn is building, which is expected to feature more of the drop-back passing game he excelled at in college. Goff called it “exciting” to be able to put his fingerprints on the offense and “to have a fresh start in a place that is also having a fresh start.”
That, however, is where the hitch could come in.
The Lions, as part of their “fresh start,” are rightly taking a long-term approach to their rebuild, and as such must consider all options at No. 7. In a draft top-heavy on quarterback talent — five could go in the first half of the first round — their most tantalizing option could be at that position.
If the Lions pass, Goff still must prove himself to Holmes and the rest of the organization; that will not be easy to do on a rebuilding team. First, he will be playing with a motley crew of receivers that right now ranks as the worst group in the league. Second, it’s rare that teams and their fan bases have patience with quarterbacks on losing teams — and the Lions look like they will be in for their share of losses this fall.
Goff, naturally, is not buying that narrative. He said Friday he doesn’t consider the Lions to be in a state of rebuild, and he was clear that his goal is to “put us over the top and get to the playoffs and win multiple playoff games and win a championship.”
Five years ago, Holmes saw Goff as exactly the type of quarterback who could do that.
In the coming months, both Holmes and Goff will tell everyone with their actions whether that still is the case.
Detroit Lions shaping up to be better than people may expect in 2021
Detroit Lions reporters Carlos Monarrez and Dave Birkett discuss March 17, 2021, Michael Brockers and Jared Goff as well as Lions’ free agency moves.
Carlos Monarrez and Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press