Jared Goff has become the Lions' ultimate bargaining chip

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Jared Goff was an afterthought in the 2020 trade that sent then-Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to Los Angeles in exchange for two first-round picks and a third-round pick. Heck, most analysts ascribed negative value to Goff because of the money due to him. The Rams sent a very clear message that Goff wasn’t good enough to get them to a Super Bowl, and though it yielded results immediately for Los Angeles, Goff’s post-Hollywood career has taken a very positive turn.

In the second season under head coach Dan Campbell, surrounded by a plethora of weapons and a solid offensive line, Goff is thriving. Through 13 games, Goff has completed 290 of 444 pass attempts for 3,352 yards and 22 touchdowns. His touchdown percentage is the highest it’s been since 2018 when he was last in the Pro Bowl, and his current numbers put him on pace to have the second-highest passing yards total of his career.

Goff’s career has been better than it seems he gets credit for. He’s had five seasons with over 20 passing touchdowns, which is tied for the second-most in the league in that span. He’s also third in passing first downs with 1,157, fourth in passing yards with 23,679 and fifth in completions with 2,046.

“I’m not worried about a negative play happening because I trust that he’s going to be able to do something positive with it for the most part,” said Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. “And that’s the biggest thing with him right now — he’s playing confident football, he’s taking care of the football, and he’s doing a nice job working within the pocket. So, we’re seeing some good production.” 

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I’m not sure that sounds like a bridge quarterback, after all. The Lions have substantial capital this offseason thanks to the Stafford trade. They are surging record-wise and there’s a reality where Detroit sneaks into the postseason for the first time since 2016. And while that’s good for the team, it isn’t great for their draft stock as they continue to rebuild. But wait. The second of the two first-round picks Los Angeles sent to Detroit with Goff could end up paying huge dividends. The Rams are last in their division and if the draft were tomorrow, hold a top-five pick. 

It means the Lions get to have their cake and eat it, too. They get a top draft selection, perhaps to use on a franchise quarterback, while also seeing success this year. But that success, more specifically the success of their signal caller, could be counterintuitive to using that first pick on a quarterback, after all.

Goff’s contract runs through 2024 but he’s already been paid his guarantees. The deal includes a potential out for 2023 that would only cost the Lions $10 million in dead cap money. That figure goes down to $5 million in 2024.

But if the Lions want to continue having their cake and eating it too, maybe they’d be wise to keep Goff, who would hold cap hits of $30.6 and $31.6 million, while also taking a quarterback.

We’ve seen time and again that young quarterbacks entering the league can benefit greatly from sitting behind a veteran. Patrick Mahomes benefited from sitting behind Alex Smith. Even further back, does Aaron Rodgers become *Aaron Rodgers* without sitting behind Brett Favre?

Or what if Detroit doesn’t take a quarterback at all and instead sends the finishing touches on their rebuild into warp speed? Goff already has chemistry with all the weapons they have on the offensive side of the ball — he spread the ball out to seven different receivers just last weekend. Detroit could fill out their remaining roster holes with two first-round picks this year, perhaps even picking up some draft capital in a trade down for the following year, whose quarterback class is thought to be better than that coming out this year. 

The Lions aren’t quite a quarterback away from contending right now, but they could be going into 2024. Or, you know, Goff leads them into contention as soon as next year with the added young pieces. He already might lead them into the playoffs this season after the collective NFL community gave them about a snowball’s chance in hell.

And because of that, if the Lions don’t want to hang on to Goff, that’s all well and good too. The way he’s played this year has upped his trade stock and Detroit could be looking at a return that helps them add pieces this season while still taking their quarterback of the future in the top of the first round.

In all honesty, Goff probably saved Campbell’s job. After a 1-6 start, the conversation was inevitable. But all those voices and whispers are gone behind a team averaging the third-most points per game since Week 8 at 29. Goff is top-five in passer rating during that span at 104.6. His passing interception rate of 0.4% is the best among active qualified passers and he’s top-10 in most major passing categories. 

It’s hard to think many teams are in a better spot than the Detroit Lions. They saw tangible improvement in the second half of this season, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the youth on the roster. They’ve gained confidence in their coaches and systems, as a result. They haven’t forfeited much in the way of draft capital because of a two-year-old trade and they have a surprisingly substantial bargaining chip in their quarterback that gives them multiple options to suit their team-building strategy.

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Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.


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