It’s rare when NFL teams admit defeat.
Front offices usually hold onto players they were wrong about too long. They’re unwilling to concede to the owner or the fans they that messed up – perhaps big time. They know it can cost them their job. They know it will at least put them on thin ice.
The Los Angeles Rams didn’t necessarily hold onto quarterback Jared Goff too long. Sure, the warning signs of his limited ceiling were there during the 2019-20 season, but the team’s overall regression was in full force. Running back Todd Gurley – arguably the focal point of the Rams system – fell off a cliff. Sean McVay seemed rattled as a play-caller after Bill Belichick pulled down his pants in Super Bowl 53. Last year was the classic Super Bowl hangover season for the Rams. At that point in time, Goff’s performance was okay.
This season changed things. After a good start, Goff regressed once again. The Rams were good enough to make up for his deficiencies, but ultimately the former No. 1 overall pick was the cog holding LA back from being great, not just good.
In response – in a move that’s so rarely made by front offices across sports – the Rams not only eliminated their problem but went all in to solve it.
The acquisition of Matthew Stafford from the Lions in exchange for Goff, two first-round picks and a third-round pick elevates the Rams from that dreaded “good” description to the desired “great.” No longer does Los Angeles have a quarterback who’s scared to throw the ball deep, will miss wide receivers and turn the ball over. They have a gunslinger who – with good coaching and good weapons – which the Rams have – can perform at a level that breaches the NFL’s best. Stafford is the quarterback we’ve lusted to see McVay have, and now he has him.
The price was steep – perhaps ridiculously so. But it’s likely that it was LA’s fault it was so high – Detroit’s swallowing of Goff’s contract and shakiness on the field drove Stafford’s price up. If the Lions moved Stafford elsewhere, perhaps their return would have been much lower.
The picks are stunning, especially considering that the two firsts were practically the only ones Los Angeles had left. But the Rams go from a team that was middling and a QB away to a Super Bowl contender now. That tradeoff – and likely upgrade – is almost invaluable. If things don’t work out now, there’s almost nothing left to try.
The Rams’ side of the Stafford deal sets precedent for Houston and Deshaun Watson. Have a QB that is as good or worse than Goff? Great, that will be four first-round picks and other stuff for Watson, please and thank you.
Sure, not every QB has the contract Goff does, but not every QB can – even with significant coaching and weapons on top of an elite defense – get to the Super Bowl.
The point is that there’s worse than Goff on the market. The teams in that situation should and will unequivocally be in on Watson, but to land him they will have to give up literally everything. Those teams are as follows:
- San Francisco
- New York Giants
- New England
- Pittsburgh (if Ben Roethlisberger returns)
- Detroit (hold this thought)
- New Orleans (if Drew Brees returns)
- Las Vegas
The seven teams that shouldn’t be pursuing Watson in addition to Chicago, Dallas and Philidelphia are left out of this exercise as well.
The Eagles are left out due to the fact that it’d cost them at least double on the cap to go get Watson, thanks to Carson Wentz’s trade kicker or his cap hit if he were to serve as Watson’s backup.
If the teams above want Watson, their current quarterback and double what the Lions got in picks for Stafford will likely be the starting point for conversations with Houston. For the teams not listed, the return is probably similar to Stafford or less, depending on who the other quarterback is in the deal (For example, Arizona including Kyler Murray in a Watson deal is worth more than Miami throwing in Tua Tagovailoa). Watson nets fewer picks than Stafford if a team like Cincinnati decides to move Joe Burrow for him (which is obviously unlikely, but probably needs to be a conversation for both).
The bottom line is this: if you’re one of the teams listed above, the Stafford trade was a kick in the balls in your attempt to make Watson your starting QB. If Stafford nets what he did, then Watson brings back what could amount to the largest trade package in NFL history. There’s a good chance he’s worth it, but that is some risky business.
A couple last notes on the potential Watson suitors above. 1) How funny would it be if Detroit leveraged Goff and the picks they received for Stafford on top of likely two more firsts and some other stuff to land Watson? Detroit might be a sneaky suitor here if they want to be. With their extra capital, they’re giving up much less than every team would in a Watson. They’re working with a surplus. 2) New Orleans and Pittsburgh fall right into the Dallas/Chicago conversation if their respective QBs retire. The Steelers absent Big Ben don’t have a QB nor pick that lands a QB that they can offer back to the Texans for Watson. Houston should not be interested in either Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston to lead a reboot at the position post Watson in a theoretical deal with New Orleans. And if either Brees or Roethlisberger are flipped for Watson, both Pittsburgh and New Orleans would be giving up hauls with unimaginable amounts of draft capital thanks to both players’ age and lack of production.
Detroit’s side of this trade is conflicting. On one end, the haul they reigned in for Stafford was stunning – two firsts and a third for a quarterback that’s not elite and needs significant help is great work. The picks allow them to be more aggressive in trying to move up for a quarterback in this year’s draft or next’s if they want to. It can also enable them to pursue Watson if they choose. Or – and this is the most likely outcome – allows Detroit to draft more good players, unlike they’ve done in the past.
But the Goff side of things is puzzling. The picks are hard to turn down, but Goff’s contract is one of those that is not easily navigable. Detroit can’t get out of it for free for two seasons. After next year, it’s a $15 million dead cap hit to release him.
The Lions are a teardown. Evaluating Goff for next season makes sense, just to make sure he’s not salvageable. But beyond that it’s a tough sell, assuming he’s not the guy for Detroit. At that point, the Lions need to find their future signal-caller instead of treading water with Goff. That’s tough though with Goff’s contract situation – moving on is not easy or cheap.
Detroit attaches themselves to Goff with this deal for a little longer than we’d like them to. At the same time, evaluating Goff next season then cutting him for $15 million wouldn’t exactly hurt the Lions. If they’re in the market for a quarterback next offseason, they’re not likely to be competitive or wanting to maintain cap room – meaning that Goff’s dead cap isn’t something they should qualm about accepting if it’s just a one-year payment.
It’s more about what else could have been out there for the Lions. Again, the Rams’ picks were tough to turn down. But why was Goff the QB Detroit had to receive back in the deal? Was Denver not willing to move Drew Lock? Was Jacob Eason in Indianapolis not appealing? Even Taylor Heinicke from Washington? Neither of those QBs might be great, but they’re at least young and cheap, and make more sense than Goff does for the Lions.
Regardless, this is about the picks for Detroit. And why wouldn’t it be? Two firsts and a third is an almost undeniable offer and certainly makes up for the presence of Goff, whether we like it or not.