Y’all remember this video?
Nothing that ain’t charming about that. The Rams stud young gunslinger going undercover at a prominent California community college for some good-natured hijinks and a nice Red Bull promo.
It also might be the only time we see Jared Goff’s value relative to replacement.
That may come across as a sneering low blow, but the question is a worthy framework when approaching any significant contract negotiation in the NFL. If the money weren’t going here, to whom could it be going? And, in the case of Jared Goff, if you want an X-dollar figure, are you adding the same amount of value to your squad as other players at your position who are making a similar amount?
Now, quarterback value on a contract is a bit of a different monster than other positions — but Jared Goff and the question of replacement is unique relative to the rest of league. For several teams with $30M QBs — present or incoming — such as Seattle (Russell Wilson), Atlanta (Matt Ryan), and Dallas (Dak Prescott), it’s easy to argue that the team is as the quarterback goes. All three have dragged anemic scheme, feeble supporting cast, or both to playoff berths. In cases like Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger), Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers), or Philadelphia (Carson Wentz), mega-deals were doled out for career success and MVP-caliber play, even if you want to argue that Philadelphia had an interesting question of replacement value with Nick Foles.
To whatever degree, these $30M QBs — and several of the QBs close, but not over the milestone, such as Drew Brees in New Orleans and Andrew Luck in Indianapolis — are irreplaceable. To compete, you need a top quarterback in the NFL — and once you have one, you’re willing to pay whatever’s necessary to keep him around. After that, it might become harder to fill out the roster, because of the significant cap space you’ve doled out into the QB position. But it’s also easier, because players in the league recognize that you have that one key cog that powers a Super Bowl run, and they want to play on teams like that.
Jared Goff’s situation stands in contrast to this prevailing thought in part because the Rams’ Super Bowl pull to free agents likely isn’t conditional on him; it’s conditional on his head coach, Sean McVay. Head coaches with people skills aren’t exactly new under the sun, but McVay brings an unmatched vitality, acumen, and glamor to the head coaching position — and that matters for free agents. Just ask Eric Weddle, who fell for McVay when they met, or Blake Bortles, who wanted to play in the system to rejuvenate his career, or Ndamukong Suh, who recalls Sean McVay’s transparency as uncommon in the league.
Since McVay arrived in Los Angeles, the Rams and Les Snead have become one of the most aggressive teams in moving contracts, flipping picks, and acquiring talent that has fallen out of favor elsewhere. Marcus Peters; Aqib Talib; Dante Fowler; Brandin Cooks; C.J. Anderson — and, by subtraction, Robert Quinn, Alec Ogeltree, and Trumaine Johnson. Mired in Fisherian mediocrity for so long, the team was chomping at the bit to make aggressive moves — but that mentality is easier with the room afforded you by a rookie contract quarterback in Jared Goff.
But if Goff isn’t your primary pull for new talent, and slapping a $33M price tag — the floor evidently set by the Carson Wentz deal — on his head will cut into the room with which to acquire said new talent, then you better have a daggum good team around Goff to begin with.
And the Rams are doing everything they can to create that. Their top four WRs are cost-controlled through 2020 and their running backs through 2022 — though I’m not sure Todd Gurley’s financial security will receive fond retrospective treatment by that time. Of course, the Rams are an 11 personnel team, and Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett are both fast approaching free agency, though they may be low-cost options given modest NFL success.
The offensive line is in a transitional phase, with John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold both out of the fold, and Andrew Whitworth (38 years old this December) and Austin Blythe both entering contract years. The Rams will likely start two 2018 draft picks in Brian Allen (C) and Joseph Noteboom (LG), though training camp could shake that up — and by 2020, could be starting both 2019 draft picks in third-rounder Bobby Evans and fifth-rounder David Edwards.
And the defense is, for every free agent acquisition and pick-for-player trade with which the Rams snagged headline after headline, not what was promised. Beyond Aaron Donald, there is little talent at DT, and Dante Fowler is on a prove-it year as the top EDGE for Los Angeles. The Rams are praying that an age-34 Clay Matthews finds a career resurgence back in southern California, that Talib and Peters play like the top CB talents they once were after shaky 2018s, and that Eric Weddle (34) staves off Father Time for yet another season.
This team is riddled with short-term contracts for expiring veteran players — a house of established cards, that looks more solid when judged on name recognition than on recent performance. They’re built to depreciate. If this team wins, it won’t be in a couple of years, when all of these veterans are back on the free agent market — it will be now. As has been predicted on BGN Radio multiple times now, that plan looks better on paper than it does in practice.
Accordingly, the missed opportunity in Super Bowl 53 stings all the more. The Rams moved heaven to build a dream defense, but earth didn’t come along with it; they held the Patriots to 13 points, and the Sean McVay and Jared Goff offense only scored 3.
Goff’s performance in that fateful snoozer began the rumbles of replacement value, the hypotheticals framed as fun though experiments, the valiant Tweeters who were just saying. His 19/38, 229 yards, 1 INT performance would go down as his second-worst performance of the season, after the Bears defense blitzkrieged him into a 20/44, 180 yard, 4 INT train wreck.
Goff got generally worse throughout the 2018 season, which is not what you want for a budding superstar at quarterback. After a Week 4 shellacking of the Minnesota Vikings, in which Goff and the Rams offense averaged an astounding 14.09 yards/pass attempt, Goff went on a five-game stretch (four road trips against Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, Green Bay, and New Orleans — that saw his yards/attempt drop by about 40%, his sack numbers skyrocket, and his interceptions double.
From an even wider perspective, Goff continued to tail off from a hot start after losing slot receiver Cooper Kupp for the season in Week 10.
These are regular season games — in the playoffs, Goff would post a 55.6% completion percentage, down nearly 10% from his season average; see 25% decreases in both his yards/attempt and adjusted yards/attempt; throw one touchdown.
He was bad. He performed poorly. That’s irregular to say of a QB who made it to the Super Bowl, but that’s the reality of Jared Goff, no matter which way you slice it: he wasn’t very good in the 2018 playoffs.
Contract decisions should not be made off of 2018 playoff performance — though, a QB who is not good in the playoffs is not much good for winning a Super Bowl, which seems to happen at the end of the playoffs every year. What contract decisions should be made off of is value relative to league benchmarks, and relative to replacement.
We’ve arrived back at the top — but between here and there, we’ve hopefully painted the background of a complicated and impactful question: how valuable is Jared Goff to the Rams? Cause off of that table, it sure seems like Cooper Kupp matters a bit more.
To say that the Sean McVay system is QB-proof is reductive. But here are things I know about the McVay offense: it uses play-action at a greater clip than anyone else in the league, which is an offensive tool that makes the average passing play more efficient — thereby making the average quarterback more efficient. It uses simplified personnel packages and analogous route concepts across a low variety of formations, which reduces the mental load on the quarterback. I also know that McVay uses the QB-to-coach communication headset to adjust play calls at the line of scrimmage for Goff, and when the Patriots took that away, the offense floundered. I know that McVay doesn’t run into loaded boxes and uses pre-snap motion to force defenders out of position, which leads to a lot of his success in the running game.
Each of these notes makes Jared Goff seemingly less valuable — not necessarily a worse quarterback, but less valuable. By nature of the mastermind who steadied his quickly-spiraling career, Goff will always be some degree a product, not a producer; a shadow of reasonable doubt will lurk over even his brightest accomplishments. To say that McVay is an offense genius is cake; to say that Goff is indispensable to the Rams is eating it, too.
Professional teams almost invariably splurge for stability, especially when they’ve gotten that first whiff of success. You may find yourself paying extra just to fall in line with zeitgeist when you give Jared Goff $33M a year, but the alternative is exposing yourself to criticism, expulsion, and pariah status should your gambit fail. They were money moves that brought the Rams here — now it’s scared money that will keep them here, for better or for worse.
If Jared Goff truly is an automaton powered by McVay, then he is far from the first who will be paid by adjacency, in a reactive league rife with nepotism. However, Goff being potentially unworthy of $30M per year is a much easier pill to swallow when he isn’t making it — he accounts for $9M on the 2019 cap and $22M on the 2020 cap. If there is but a kernel of similar doubt in the Rams’ organization regarding Goff’s future, they have a couple of years’ worth of data left to acquire. Stringing out your decision can get tricky — ask Kirk Cousins and Washington — but it may be worth it in the long haul.
Goff will almost certainly receive his big contract, but that will not stop many league analysts from wondering what exactly he is — and what could have been proved, had the Rams elected to send him on his way.