Two years after they took his contract to help facilitate the Matthew Stafford trade, the Detroit Lions are ready to go all-in on their future with Jared Goff.
At least that’s the strong impression Lions coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes have given after Goff capped the self-admitted best season of his career by leading the Lions to a 20-16 victory over the Green Bay Packers that gave the franchise its first winning record in five seasons.
Campbell called Goff “a perfect fit for what we do and what we ask,” and referred to him as “our quarterback” in recent days, and Holmes said at his end-of-season news conference Tuesday, “I don’t really know what the decision is” to make about Goff’s future.
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“I never really considered him as a bridge,” Holmes said. “I think everyone else did. I think there’s a little bit of recency bias from what he had to go through last year.”
Run out of Los Angeles by Rams coach Sean McVay, Goff, the first pick of the 2016 NFL draft, struggled in his first season in Detroit as the Lions battled injuries on their offensive line and at the skill positions.
He led the Lions to wins in three of his final four starts last season, after a change in offensive play callers, and captained the NFL’s fifth-highest scoring offense this year.
Goff, 28, finished the season with a 99.3 passer rating, his best mark since helping the Rams reach the Super Bowl in 2018, and threw 29 touchdowns against seven interceptions. He ended the year on a streak of 324 straight pass attempts without a pick.
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“I was always confident in him because I’ve been with him from the get-go since he was drafted back when I was with LA,” said Holmes, the former college scouting director of the Rams. “I just kind of know how resilient and mentally tough he is, and I think a lot of it was me knowing all the success he had in LA. I think that was kind of forgotten about a little bit when he got here and I think he was put in a very tough situation. I don’t want to say, I don’t know how many quarterbacks in that situation that he was in last year (would thrive), but we had a lot of injuries, man, and we didn’t really have the weapons around him.”
Asked if he could say unequivocally Goff was the Lions’ quarterback of the future, Holmes said, “I think it’s a lot easier to get worse at quarterback than to get better at quarterback, in this league.”
“And so I think what Jared has done this year, he captained the ship of a top-three offense and I want to say he was top-10 statistically in most of the passing categories,” Holmes said. “And again, you know how we approach the draft, like we’re never going to turn down a good football player. So if there’s a football player we really love, we’re going to make sure every stone is unturned. But I do think that Jared has proven everybody that he is the starting quarterback for us.”
The Lions, with two first-round picks in April’s draft, have long been viewed as a team that would consider a quarterback with one of its top picks.
Three quarterbacks could go in the top 10 of the draft with Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Levis, and Florida’s Anthony Richardson is considered a potential first-round choice.
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The Lions have the sixth pick of the first round from the Stafford trade, and their own first-round pick, No. 18 overall.
Holmes said there is merit to drafting a quarterback and letting him sit and develop for a year or more, and pointed to Patrick Mahomes (who sat one season before taking over as Kansas City Chiefs quarterback) and Aaron Rodgers (a four-time MVP who sat his first three seasons with the Green Bay Packers) as success stories with that approach.
But the Lions seem more intent on improving their 32n.d-ranked defense this offseason, and continuing to surround Goff with the weapons he needs to build on his strong season.
Goff said Monday he felt “great” to be appreciated because “I’ve been on the flip side of that,” and he repeatedly referred to Detroit as “a special place” and this year as a “special” season.
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“I’ve loved my time here and I love Dan and I love the players and the coaches, I can’t speak more highly of this group and these coaches,” he said. “I love leading this team. I love being a part of it. I love playing for Dan, I love playing for Brad, I love playing for (owner) Sheila (Hamp). It’s such a special group and a special place to be and Ford Field, it all goes into it.”
Campbell said Monday that Goff was “one of the biggest reasons” the Lions turned their season around after a 1-6 start, and it seems apparent the organization is committed to seeing how far Goff can take it in the future.
“He fits us, he really does,” Campbell said. “We’re about running the football, play-action pass and when you do those things you need a quarterback that can get you in the right play and is very good at accuracy. Throwing the football, decision making, and he fits the bill on all of that. I mean, it was a hell of a year by him.”
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.