Allen Park — Coming from Los Angeles to Detroit has been a breath of fresh air for quarterback Jared Goff. That’s not because he was escaping the smog that has long plagued the West Coast’s biggest city, but because he was in desperate need for a new beginning.
No one really wants to talk about how things ended with the Rams, but the circumstances of Goff’s departure spell out all you really need to know. The franchise that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2016 was so eager to dump him even before the massive contract extension he signed in 2019 kicked in that they packaged three draft picks, including two first-rounders, in order to acquire Matthew Stafford, a quarterback seven years older with a increasingly concerning injury history.
So after five seasons, which included two Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl appearance, it was over for Goff in Los Angeles. And Lions general manager Brad Holmes, who had been serving as the Rams’ college scouting director when the franchise drafted the quarterback, was all too happy to take advantage of the abrupt divorce.
Goff might be coming off two statistically disappointing seasons with the Rams, but Holmes sees it as an opportune time to be acquiring the player based on how he’s dealt with adversity in the past.
“I remember going through the (scouting) process on him coming out and he actually didn’t go to Cal regarded where he thought he should have been regarded,” Holmes told The Detroit News in during a sit-down interview earlier this week. “He had a chip on his shoulder coming into Cal. He went to a — let’s just say a bad Cal team. I think they only won one game that first year. He had a chip on his shoulder and got them up to a bowl victory as he exited.
“His ’16 season (rookie year), let’s just call it a bad situation he was put in. They labeled him a bust, so, you know, chip on his shoulder going into ’17. Then, obviously, you know how things went down (this offseason), so I think he’s got another chip on his shoulder, where hopefully not only the change of scenery, but I think we’re getting Jared right at the right time.”
Holmes is spot on with the details. Goff, a four-star recruit, didn’t pull any scholarship offers from big-time programs. And as a freshman in 2013, Cal went 1-11 before rattling off eight wins and a bowl victory as a junior. As a rookie with the Rams, he posted a dismal 63.6 passer rating and went winless in seven starts, prior to those back-to-back Pro Bowl selections and Super Bowl trip.
Now the Lions are hoping he’ll once again be fueled by all the doubt surrounding him.
But it’s not just a passive process. Having a chip on his shoulder is viewed as a positive, but the Lions are playing an active role in building Goff back up by making sure he understands this is his team and they believe in his ability to lead them into the future.
“I just want him to be comfortable and enjoy it,” Holmes said about expectations for Goff’s 2021 season. “I think that’s what he’s showing out there in these OTAs and hopefully we’ll see this in minicamp. You know, I like the approach (coach) Dan (Campbell) has taken with him. It’s like, ‘Hey man, you’re the starter and this is your team. Go compete, practice and make sure practice is how you want practice to be.’ To give him that kind of ownership I think has been big for him and I think he’s really enjoying that breath of fresh air.”
It’s more than having input in the practice routine. Campbell and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn are working closely with Goff, in the spirit of collaboration permeating throughout the organization, to put together a scheme and playbook that utilizes what Goff sees as his own strengths.
“Dan and A-Lynn have really empowered me,” Goff said. “What do I want? What do I like? What do I want to see? How do we want to do things? And they’re kind of constantly bouncing things off me, and I’m constantly bouncing things off them. I think that’s been a healthy relationship, and something that’s fun for me to experience and be a part of. Guys are really wanting to hear from me, and wanting to hear what I like.”
Fun is the key word here. Goff said it several times during the course of his interview on Tuesday. And while he was reluctant to look backwards, or interested in comparing anything he is doing with the Lions’ coaching staff this offseason to what he’d done previously in Los Angeles, he acknowledged there’s been a freedom to escaping the thoughts and talk of a tumultuous offseason, getting back on a football field and slinging it around in an positive environment.
“You go through your head and (you’re) in it for a while right after, and then you get closer to being on the field with these guys, and it goes away,” Goff said. “All you think about is football and being on the field, and that’s why you play the game, for the fun of it and the love of the game and to be out there with the guys every day. I think since I’ve been here in the building, it’s been a really fun, positive experience.”
Being realistic, it might not be smooth from the start, just like that 1-11 season as a freshman at Cal or his 0-7 stretch as a rookie with the Rams. The Lions have a lot of new pieces, including a completely overhauled receiving corps and a rookie right tackle. There will inevitably be bumps.
But Holmes, Campbell and the Lions are banking on what Goff doing what he’s always done — fighting through adversity and finding a way to turn things around, both for himself and his team.