The defending NFC Champion L.A. Rams, with a 6-4 record in the NFL’s hardest division, have a serious problem. His name is Jared Goff.
More particularly, their problem lies with Goff’s contract signed in September of this year; all four years and $134 million of it.
In 2019 – per Spotrac – Goff carries a cap-hit of just $10.629 million; good for 111th-most in the NFL. Given he’s currently the 27th-ranked QB in the NFL, with 2,783 yards passing (60.2% completion rate), 11 TDs, 10 INTs and an 82.1 passer rating, you could make a pretty good case that Goff is the 111th-best player in the NFL, and is being paid accordingly.
Next year, though, it starts to get messy. In 2020, Goff’s projected cap hit of $36 million is the HIGHEST in football. In terms of pure cap outlay, Goff would need to be – or at least play like – the best football player on the planet in order to properly justify his price tag.
In 2021, his $32.5 million cap hit is FOURTH in the NFL, behind only Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Carson Wentz. In 2022 ($30.5 million), he’s fifth behind Russell Wilson, Rodgers, Wentz and Ryan.
While Goff justified his enormous contract extension by leading the Rams to a Super Bowl berth last season, throwing for just under 4,700 yards, 32 TDs and just 12 INTs in the process, he has been one of the most disappointing players in the NFL this season. The Rams’ unconvincing win against the Chicago Bears last Sunday night was perhaps the perfect encapsulation of all that’s gone wrong with Goff so far in 2019.
Goff completed just 11 passes, the Rams offense managed just 13 first downs (three overall third-down conversions) and only managed to put 17 points in a dour, demoralising 7-point victory.
For all the furore over Mitch Trubisky and his ability (or lack thereof) to run an NFL offense, over the last 16 games he’s completing more passes (64.9% as opposed to Goff’s 59.5%), has thrown for more touchdowns (20 v 17) and less interceptions (9 v 16).
Last year a high-powered Rams offense under the tutelage of wunderkind head coach Sean McVay was putting up the second best numbers in the NFL, going at nearly 33 points per game. Whilst the offensive line has changed personnel significantly since then – largely thanks to injury – and Todd Gurley’s struggles with a debilitating knee worry are well-documented, Brandin Cook’s has had problems with concussion and Aaron Donald has slightly taken a step backward, the regression this season is largely thanks to Goff and Goff alone.
The 25-year-old hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since Week 8, and is arguably lucky to have only been picked off twice in the last fortnight. He’s ranked last in the league (out of 33 qualified QBs) for On-Target Throwing percentage, and per Bill Barnwell on Twitter, has the largest negative gap between his expected completion percentage and his actual completion percentage of anyone in the NFL; a clear indication that throws he should be making are not hitting their intended target.
The change has been most evident on first down, an area of their offense where the Rams have built an identity of unpredictability and innovation. With Gurley at his best, opposing defenses were forced to pick their poison between stacking the box and preventing the run – in which case Goff could take deep shots with reckless abandon – or dropping back and allowing Gurley to pick his way through a weaker front for 6-7 yards.
Last season Goff hit 67% of his passes on first down for a total of 2,169 yards (9.35 per attempt), good enough to put him 5th in the league for that metric. He also threw for 13 TDs and only 5 INTs while accruing a passer rating of 106.4
This year, he’s hitting 10% less of first down passes, has thrown 2 TDs and 4 INTs on first down and has a passer rating of 71.1. Stunningly, he ranks 42nd among QBs in the league with at least 10 first down passing attempts, behind Mason Rudolph and only marginally ahead of Josh Rosen.
The Rams ran play action on 36% of their snaps last season – first in the NFL. This year they’re running it on just 25% of plays.
That, of course, is a clear indication that Gurley cannot – or will not – handle as much usage as he has in the pass. There is no excuse, however, for some of the decisions Goff is making with the ball. For example, this ball he threw in the Bears game had more chance of being intercepted than it did of being completed.
A QB who was once a fluid, effective, efficient facilitator of McVay’s innovative offensive schemes has turned back in to the skittish, downright terrified kid we saw under Jeff Fisher in 2017-18.
This is a problem, not least of all because the NFC West has quickly turned in to a QB minefield. If you think this version of Jared Goff is going to be able to out-duel Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garroppolo and Kyler Murray twice a season for the next 5 years, you’ve got another thing coming.
The major problem, though, is Goff’s contract, amongst others means the Rams simply cannot just cut and run. The dead cap number for Goff in 2020 is a stunning $51 million, largely by virtue of his $120 million in guaranteed money – the largest in NFL history. Gurley and Brandin Cooks – two off-ball playmakers with troubling injury records – have a combined dead cap number of over $47 million.
What that essentially means is the Rams can’t afford – like literally cannot possibly – burn this current iteration of their team down and start again. They’re stuck with what they’ve got, come hell or high water.
Goff has proven this year that all he is, and likely all he ever will be in the NFL, is an efficient game-manager. When players like Gurley and Cooper Kupp and Donald are excelling around him, he can lead a star-studded team to success.
When that star-studded team turns mediocre, so does he. Goff doesn’t have Rodgers’ arm strength, or Wilson’s playmaking, or Brady’s guile. It’s not his fault, but he doesn’t possess the tools those guys were able to use to drag their less-talented teammates to the promised land.
There was no reason for the Rams not to wait another year of Goff’s rookie contract before signing him to a big money deal, or letting him walk and trying again in the draft. By now even Joe Blow on the street knows that a QB on a rookie deal is the most valuable commodity in football, maybe even in all of sports.
Instead, they owe $120 million to a glorified Andy Dalton, have $26 million in projected cap space next year, have 41 players under contract and no first-round picks until 2022. They may sneak in to the playoffs this year, but only the most ardent of fans would argue for anything more than a Wildcard Round exit.
Given L.A.’s six wins have come against the Panthers Saints, Browns, Falcons, Bengals and Bears, and in three games against opponents who rank in the top five in the league at Football Outsiders in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), Goff has zero touchdown passes, a completion percentage of 55.4 and a passer rating of 58.0, even the playoffs is going to be wishful thinking.
Then, in 2020, there’s no option but to run it back with what will effectively be the same roster.
Things are only going to get worse from here.