He was basically a castoff when Detroit acquired him in 2021’s Matthew Stafford trade.

At that point, Jared Goff was a warm body who could throw the ball while the Detroit Lions reloaded around him and scanned the market for someone better. But the second act of Goff’s NFL career now has a lucrative stamp of approval.

Three seasons, an NFC North title, and an NFC championship game appearance later, the former No. 1 overall pick of the Los Angeles Rams will get $170 million guaranteed over four years and up to $212 million on a new contract that begins after the 2024 season. 

Now 29, Goff will be 34 when the contract extension lapses, and for now, he’s slated to be the highest-paid player in Lions history and the second highest-paid quarterback in the NFL behind the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow.

highest average annual value contracts
(Via spotrac.com/nfl/rankings)

Will Goff actually be the NFL’s second best-paid QB for any extended amount of time? The continued growth of the salary cap and the league’s obsession with QBs means that he’ll get passed pretty quickly – maybe by Dak Prescott in 2025 (when the Dallas Cowboys’ signal-caller be up for a new deal) and certainly within a year or two after. 

Is Goff worth the contract? Intuitively, the easy answer is “no.” No one believes Goff is a top-five quarterback, and he’ll now be paid like one. But QB deals are never struck up in a vacuum. And in the context of what the Lions are building right now, a megadeal for a better-than-serviceable QB makes a lot of sense.

The Lions can build an elite offense with Goff. In fact, they already did. 

The 2023 Lions, which made the postseason for the first time since 2016 and had two playoff wins for the first time since 1957, were third in the NFL in yards per play (5.9). They were also third in net yards per pass attempt (6.9) and fifth in yards per carry (4.6).

That multidimensional success converted to finishing fifth in scoring (27.1 points per game). By whichever metric you pick, Detroit had a top-five offense. In fact, the Lions ranked fourth in offensive EVE by averaging 0.5 yards more than the expected amount last season.

offensive EVE

Goff is obviously not alone in deserving praise for that unit. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was the toast of the town last winter and reportedly turned down an opportunity to become the head coach of the Washington Commanders. Penei Sewell is one of the best left tackles in recent NFL history, and the entire line to his right performed at a high level last year.

Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown ranked third in catches (119) and receiving yards (1,515), and tied for fifth with 13 touchdown burns. Sam LaPorta was one of the most impressive rookie tight ends in years, and Jahmyr Gibbs ran for 945 yards on 5.2 yards per carry and ranked fifth in total EVE (186.7) in his first season.

And the Lions played more than half of their games in roofed stadiums, so Goff’s circumstances in Detroit have been ideal. It would be easy to look at him as a passenger, especially given his history. Goff was the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, and Sean McVay’s Rams made a Super Bowl with him before swinging a big trade to get a better QB.

But in Detroit, Goff is not just riding along in a nice system. 

Goff is the classic game manager, sure. But for the Lions, he’s more. 

Yes, Johnson schemes up an offense in which Goff gets the ball out of his hands rapidly. His average release time in 2023 was 2.58 seconds, firmly on the quicker side of NFL QBs.

Among QBs with 175 true attempts (no throwaways or spikes) during the regular season, Goff had the 14th-fastest release time (2.58). That was despite Goff having an all-world offensive line protecting him and ostensibly giving him more time to sit back and scan the field. 

Yes, Goff played in structure, not being forced to improvise or move beyond his first few reads. Goff’s 76.0% “in-design” rate, a measurement of how often a play is executed as called, was well ahead of the 72.2% league average. 

Yes, Goff’s receivers were adept at getting open for him. Goff enjoyed an 82.5% open target rate, which ranked third in the NFL. Having a sublime route-runner like St. Brown, a slippery, athletic tight end like LaPorta, and a receiving threat like Gibbs at running back all helped. 

No, Goff doesn’t push the ball down the field much relative to other NFL starters. His throws averaged 7.1 air yards, a healthy chunk below the 8.0-yard league average. 

jared goff player card

Yes, the single most important thing Goff does is take care of the ball. His 2.29 pickable pass percentage was the league’s third-lowest rate, just decimal points behind leaders Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles and Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens. In this way, Goff was actually a bit unlucky last year, as his real interception rate was 2.0%, which ranked just 19th. (He threw 12 picks in total). We might expect that number to go down in 2024. 

For a QB whose main point of criticism in Los Angeles was that he was a system guy whose head coach lugged him along, that all tracks. The Lions had a great offense, but based on those QB traits, it wouldn’t be hard to conclude that Goff limited them rather than added to their efforts. 

Not necessarily, though. All of the game-manager-ish parts of Goff’s 2023 resume are normal enough among QBs everyone recognizes as being very good. Prescott, Burrow and Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars had faster times to throw. Burrow and Patrick Mahomes averaged fewer air yards. Stafford, Burrow, Lawrence and Justin Herbert posted higher in-structure play rates.

The only place where Goff was a leader was in his open target percentage, the measurement of open receivers. But even then, he barely had it easier than a handful of elite QBs (Jackson, Burrow, Josh Allen and C.J. Stroud). 

In other respects, Goff was clearly at the top of the league. His 83.6% well-thrown rate was third among starters behind Mahomes and Kirk Cousins.

jared goff scatter

And Goff actually checked down less than the league average (7.9%, compared to 9.3) and had a higher percentage of his passes dropped than average (4.2% to 3.6). He took a sack on just 4.7% of his drop backs, the third-best mark in the league.

Johnson and his excellent offensive line had a lot to do with it, but the QB still has to get the ball out accurately, and Goff did it consistently. 

The Lions are too good right now to do anything else. 

An offense with Gibbs, St. Brown, Sewell and LaPorta is going to struggle to be bad even if the Lions get some of the league’s worst quarterback play.

The franchise has significant problems on defense, where it allowed the 10th-most points and ninth-most yards per play in 2023. But the Lions already have edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson as a cornerstone on that side of the ball, and they just spent their first two NFL Draft picks on two cornerbacks (Terrion Arnold and Ennis Rakestraw) who will supplement a weak secondary.

The Lions went 12-5 last year to finish atop the standings for their first division title since 1993 with what they had, and their roster looks just as good this time around.

Meanwhile, the club has decided to go all-in with its core players, as anyone would do after getting within one second-half collapse against the San Francisco 49ers of reaching the Super Bowl last year. Sewell and St. Brown got their own huge contracts this offseason. Hutchinson will get his soon, and LaPorta still has nearly an entire rookie contract in front of him.

The Lions could not bottom out for an early draft pick over the next few seasons even if they tried. Given that, they have no path to a QB with any likelihood of being as good as Goff during the time period in which the Lions also have Sewell, St. Brown and Hutchinson at the peak of their powers. 

So general manager Brad Holmes had a choice. On one hand, he could have taken his chances with Goff’s contract running out after 2024, leaving the team’s QB plans uncertain during a ripe few years for contention. The Lions could try to find a QB who might be serviceable with the hopes of eventually being better than that, but not much hope of being a star. Or they could keep the QB who already gives them that solid caliber of play.

By paying Goff, the Lions chose the bird already in the huddle. 

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