Jared Goff excited to be with Lions franchise that wants, appreciates him

The conversation didn't last long.

When Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay phoned Jared Goff on Saturday night to tell the quarterback he was being traded to the Detroit Lions, Goff had barely uttered "OK" when he saw that his father, Jerry, was calling on the other line. As a man accustomed to making quick decisions in the heat of the moment, Goff didn't hesitate.

"I've gotta go," he told his soon-to-be-former boss, and clicked off to talk to his dad about the next chapter of his NFL career.

As stunning as it might have seemed a few weeks ago -- and, certainly, 17 months ago, when the Rams signed the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft to a four-year, $134-million contract extension -- Goff's football future will now unfold in Detroit.

Two years after guiding the Rams to an epic comeback road victory over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game -- only to suffer a Super Bowl defeat that both he and McVay nobly attempted to take the blame for -- Goff was gone.

On Saturday, the Rams sent Goff, two first-round draft picks and a third-round selection to the Lions to acquire 12-year veteran Matthew Stafford, the quarterback McVay believes can reinvigorate his once cutting-edge offense.

In addition to the haul of picks, a price that certainly reflected Detroit's willingness to assume Goff's contract, the Lions got a quarterback they believe can thrive in their revamped, run-heavy attack. And Goff, a young man who handled the Rams' disrespectful divorce strategy of the past several weeks with quiet dignity, got something valuable out of the deal, too.

After talking with Lions general manager Brad Holmes, coach Dan Campbell, offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn and other organizational power brokers Saturday night, Goff -- for the first time in a while -- felt wanted. In a sense, he felt like it was draft day, all over again.

"I'm just excited to be somewhere that I know wants me and appreciates me," Goff told NFL.com on Sunday morning. "I'm moving forward and couldn't be more excited to build a winner there. I'm excited about Dan (Campbell) and the whole staff."

Were we so inclined, we could spend paragraphs and paragraphs breaking down the dissolution of the once-airtight McVay/Goff connection, delving deep into the vagaries of the Rams' schematic evolution (or lack thereof), the coach's dissatisfaction with Goff's performance (especially as it related to the QB's turnover tally the past two seasons) and the accompanying drop in confidence as the tension ramped up. With all due (dis)respect to the analytics nerds and wannabe GMs on social media and elsewhere, some very smart coaches, players and talent evaluators in the football world believe there is a legitimate case to be made on each man's behalf, and the estimation of Goff by many of those experts is much higher than many fans might assume.

Let's table that debate, for the moment, and accept the fact that McVay -- whatever his reasons -- decided Goff was no longer the guy he wants running his offense. At the very least, the messy handling of the transition from Goff to Stafford was hardly the organization's finest hour.

Routinely trashed this season on FOX telecasts, specifically those with Troy Aikman as the lead analyst, Goff could reasonably assume that McVay's words about his quarterback's play in network production meetings were far from glowing. And yet, Goff had some impressive performances in 2020 (SEE: games against the Eagles, Bills, Bucs, Cardinals) and helped push the Rams into postseason contention. Things began to unravel in a Dec. 27 road defeat to the Seahawks that gave Seattle the NFC West title. In the third quarter, Goff suffered a dislocated right thumb after banging it on the helmet of Seahawks pass rusher Benson Mayowa, popped it back into place and finished the game. Afterward, he learned the thumb was broken.

Devastated, Goff thought his season was done. Told he could have surgery to insert three pins that might allow him to come back for the Rams' first playoff game -- assuming the team could qualify -- Goff went for it, like a team player should.

It didn't play out the way he'd hoped: Two days after the Rams' season-ending victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Goff and McVay had some hard conversations. McVay told Goff that, with a rematch against the Seahawks in Seattle looming four days later, he had to make a decision on his starter and stick with it. Given the uncertainty about how Goff would be able to throw following thumb surgery, and the tight timeline, McVay was going with backup John Wolford, who had just made his first career start against the Cardinals. Wolford would get all of the first-team reps in practice, and Goff would work off to the side.

Goff was upset. Intellectually, he understood McVay's dilemma and line of thinking. As a competitor, it killed him that he wouldn't be out there. The coach and quarterback said some difficult things to one another. They spoke for four hours. One thing McVay did not say, however, was that he was benching Goff because he wanted Wolford to play, period.

In retrospect, he probably should have.

So what happened in the playoff game? Wolford got knocked out with a neck injury the first quarter, and Goff came jogging onto the field -- with zero reps, 12 days after thumb surgery -- and gutted out a game that was one of the bigger triumphs of the McVay era.

The following Saturday in Green Bay, with Wolford inactive, Goff played well in 25-degree weather, but fellow Cal alum Aaron Rodgers and the Packers played better. Until the latter stages of the Rams’ 32-18 defeat, Goff had completed all but two of his passes, but L.A.'s No. 1-ranked defense couldn't hold up against the soon-to-be three-time MVP.

After the game, McVay told Rodgers, "Watching you play, it's like watching a game in slow motion. That's how dialed in you are."

And then, in short order, the rest of the world -- including Goff -- got a sense of just how quickly McVay wanted to find a new quarterback.

First, in his postgame press conference, McVay said of Goff, "Yeah, he's the quarterback right now" -- echoing the infamous words Cardinals general manager Steve Keim uttered of starting quarterback Josh Rosen less than two months before drafting his replacement, Kyler Murray, in 2019.

The following day, in his end-of-season press conference, McVay didn't commit to Goff being on the roster in 2021, saying everything was being evaluated.

Five days ago, Rams general manager Les Snead had his end-of-season press conference, which played out more like a bad standup-comedy audition. In response to Goff's status, Snead twice invoked Rodgers' "beautiful mystery" phrase surrounding the 37-year-old quarterback's own future with the Packers, called Goff "a Ram right now" and delved into the specifics of how the team could move on from the quarterback while finessing the salary-cap hit. Afterward, he bemusedly asked reporters what they thought the next day's headlines would be.

In fairness to Snead and McVay, they weren't lying.

In fairness to Goff, he was blindsided. Neither Snead nor McVay had told him the team wanted to move on, or anything close to that. For a 26-year-old, who, since being thrown into a tough situation his rookie year, has consistently displayed toughness, commitment, positivity and team-centric behavior during his time with the franchise, it was a crappy way to learn he was unwanted, yet he refused to fire back.

Then came Saturday night's phone call from McVay, and the relief that followed -- a weight had been lifted off Goff's shoulders, one he hadn't realized was so heavy. McVay, for what it's worth, was vacationing in Cabo San Lucas; Stafford (for you conspiracy theorists) was also said to be in the area, according to two sources familiar with the quarterback's situation.

Goff clicked off to talk to his father, and he began to feel better. Then came the calls from his new head coach, and other Lions power brokers, and he heard the palpable excitement in their voices and understood that this was a two-way exchange: Yes, he was being dumped by the Rams, but he was also being courted by a long-struggling organization that hopes its latest facelift can lead to its first postseason win in three decades.

Hey, Goff can relate. He was the freshman quarterback on a Cal team that went 1-11; two years later, he led the Golden Bears to a bowl victory. Unlike most No. 1 overall picks, including Stafford, Goff's pre-NFL career was filled with consistent on-the-field adversity.

The Lions are looking for a leader, and Goff firmly believes that he's the right guy to take them where they want to go. For what it's worth, a run-heavy attack -- and the play-action opportunities that should follow -- would seem to be a nice match for Goff's skill set.

On Sunday morning, Goff and I talked about his journey -- and this very sharp detour north -- and some of the stress he's carried inside for the past several months. It's been a lot, but Goff didn't harp on the souring of his relationship with McVay or the end of his time in L.A. His voice was calm, hopeful, light and even … happy?

It made sense. This isn't complicated. It's good to be wanted, and for the first time in awhile, Goff believes that is the case.

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter.

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