With defensive tackle Aaron Donald‘s second contract, the Rams dragged their feet through a pair of offseason and preseason holdouts, eventually (and begrudgingly) paying Donald on the brink of the fifth and final year of his rookie deal. With running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff, the Rams moved much more quickly.
As to both, they may regret it.
They surely already regret Gurley’s deal. Paid as a workhorse tailback, he simply no longer is one. And it sets up a $10.5 million decision in March that could end Gurley’s time with the team, barring a restructuring based on the reality that the Rams may be willing to pay Gurley more than anyone else will, if/when he’s cut.
The Rams also may regret Goff’s deal. He wasn’t clamoring for a new contract, at least not publicly. And while it may have gotten more expensive to sign him if he built on his 2018 performance with an even better season in 2019, giving him $33.5 million per year and $110 million guaranteed carries the risk of injury and regression. Regression is what’s happening this season for Goff.
His average gain per pass has dropped by more than a yard this year. His completion percentage is down three points. He has 11 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions; last year, he finished with 32 and 12. His passer rating of 80.3 ranks 27th among all current starters. It’s simply not the kind of performance that justifies the kind of contract he received.
So why did they give it to him? He had a poor performance in Super Bowl LIII, punctuated by a failure to see receiver Brandin Cooks when he popped wide open for what would have been a first-half touchdown and then seeing Cooks too late (and delivering the ball too wobbly) when they ran the same play after a 30-minute halftime that likely included plenty of chatter about how they’ll use the same play again and that his time Goff should throw it to Cooks.
Then came the offseason, with ample talk-radio takes about the the ever-increasing quarterback market and the question of whether, at some point, a team will simply choose not to pay a quarterback who is due for a second contract, finding another one instead. Some (including me) suggested that the Rams may be the team to do it, opting not to pay Goff market value and deciding to find someone else who can be groomed to run coach Sean McVay’s system.
McVay pushed back, loudly and repeatedly extolling the virtues of Jared Goff. As noted in mid-July, McVay’s defense of his franchise quarterback could increase considerably the cost of re-signing him; indeed, coaches and executives routinely tread lightly when it comes to publicly praising players who are close to getting new contracts, because anything they say can and will be used against them by the players’ agents.
By late August, the Rams said they weren’t focused on paying Goff. Then, within a week, they had. Possibly at the behest of a skilled agent who argued that the praise would ring hollow unless and until they put owner Stan Kroenke’s money where McVay’s mouth is.
Now they’re stuck. The contract structure makes it virtually impossible to cut Goff before 2023, so they’ll have to love the one they’re with, for at least three more seasons. Which means periodically defending him against the cold hard truth of poor statistical performances.
“I’m not worried about the statistical things because I know — whether it be QB rating, things like that — that can get skewed based on how much is weighted on interceptions and touchdowns,” McVay told reporters on Tuesday. “Sometimes there’s decisions that we can do a better job with and then sometimes it’s not always a reflection of him. What I’m concerned — I don’t want to say I’m concerned — but where there’s an urgency is we’ve got to be better as an offense overall. Coaches, players, we’re all a part of this. It’s not just Jared. It’s a collaboration of the unit and that’s why football is the greatest team sport there is. I think everybody — especially just for our team as a whole — we can all look inward, figure out what we can do better. That’s what we’ve got to do and we’ve got to start seeing those things show up.”
That’s a very carefully worded answer, and for good reason. It’s not McVay’s style to throw his guys under the bus, even when his guy hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in a month. Unfortunately, it is McVay’s style to throw them huge money before he has to, and as the Rams count the days until they can escape Gurley’s deal, they’ll also be counting the months until they can tear up the contract that they didn’t have to give to Goff, but did anyway.