Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay will make a decision this week concerning former Cal star Jared Goff that will affect a delicious matchup of former Cal quarterbacks in the short term but could transform the Rams’ NFL franchise for years to come.
The options are clear: Will McVay choose Goff to be the Rams’ starting quarterback for Saturday’s playoff game against the Packers, creating a matchup of former Golden Bears quarterback Goff and Aaron Rodgers? Or will he choose John Wolford to start against Green Bay, ruining the ex-Cal quarterback matchup and perhaps sending the team’s future into chaos.
The ramifications of the choice are not so clear, and could be quite significant.
***Update: On Thursday, Jared Goff was named the Rams starting quarterback for Saturday's game because Wolford was ruled out for the game due to his neck injury. This story was originally posted on Wednesday.
If Goff does not start Saturday at Green Bay, then . . . well, we’ll get to that later.
First, here’s the situation. Goff has been the Rams starting quarterback ever since the 10th game of his rookie season in 2016 after being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. A Pro Bowl selection in 2017 and 2018, Goff led the Rams to a Super Bowl berth in the 2018 season, losing to the Patriots. In 2019, the Rams signed Goff to a four-year $134 million extension that takes effect after this season. He has not been as effective this season as was in the past, owning a passer rating of 90.0, which ranks 23rd in the league. He missed the final regular-season game with a thumb injury that required surgery on Dec. 28.
John Wolford, an undrafted quarterback who has kicked around several NFL teams and is making $760,000 this year, made his first appearance in an NFL regular-season game by starting the final regular-season game, an 18-7 victory over the Cardinals.
Goff said late last week that his thumb was healed enough for him to play against Seattle, but McVay decided early last week that Wolford would start last weekend’s playoff game against the Seahawks.
“He’s a competitor and he was not happy,” Cal alum and longtime sports reporter Mike Silver said regarding Goff’s reaction, according to a USA Today story. “Yes, he was 12 days removed from thumb surgery and had three pins in that right thumb, but he believed he should’ve started this game and he and Sean McVay had some long, heartfelt conversations leading into that decision.
“Stylistically and professionally, they’ve gotten a bit crossed-up from where they were two years ago when the Rams were rolling all the way to the Super Bowl and then you add this decision, and he was in a tough place.”
See what Silver said in this video this week:
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweeted his information on the decision McVay’s made last week:
McVay told Goff they weren’t benching him, which the quarterback understood – but only “to an extent.”
“Sean made it very clear to me, ‘We’re obviously not benching you. We need to have a plan moving forward and this week, with where you’re at physically and what not…’ I got it, to an extent. But it was tough,” Goff said.
Wolford was injured early in the game against Seattle and was hospitalized briefly for a neck injury. Goff finished up, playing well enough to give the Rams a 30-20 victory over the Seahawks and a berth against the Packers.
However, after the game and in the days since, McVay has declined to say who his starting quarterback will be against the Packers.
In his postgame statement on the issue McVay sounded as if Wolford might still start against the Packers despite Goff having another week of recovery: "I’m pleased with what Jared did today, but John was getting into a rhythm. I thought he was seeing the field really well.”
Tuesday of this week was only a walk-though day for the Rams so there was no official practice, but Goff was listed as a full participant on the injury report that day and Wolford was listed as a non-participant in that practice because of his neck injury. But on Wednesday, the Rams had a regular practice and Goff was a full participant and Wolford again did not practice.
It suggests that Goff is certainly healthy enough to play against the Packers -- even healthier than Wolford.
It becomes almost unimaginable that Wolford would start against the Packers.
With these injury updates, is it possible that McVay would still choose Wolford to start against the Packers? There are hints that the head coach thinks Wolford gives his team a better chance against Green Bay. But think of the repercussions down the line.
Goff, a 25-year-old, five-year NFL starter, will make $27.5 million in guaranteed money next year and is scheduled to earn $43 million in guaranteed income over the years of a contract that runs through 2024.
If he loses his starting job in a big-time playoff game to a guy who has played little more than one NFL game in his career and is scheduled to make $780,000 next season, Goff will lose all trust in the Rams and McVay. It would also indicate that the Rams and McVay have lost all confidence in Goff.
The broken Rams-McVay-Goff partnership would probably be irreparable.
Trading a player with Goff’s salary would be difficult indeed, and simply waiving the highest-paid player on the team (in terms of annual salary) would carry financial and cap ramifications that would not be pleasant for the Rams.
Meanwhile, here sits Wolford, a Wake Forest grad just trying to do his job after being virtually out of the game two years ago. Wolford had lined up a job with North Carolina private equity firm Teall Capital that he was scheduled to start in August 2018, according to CNBC story. However less than a week before he began the job, he got a call from the New York Jets, reviving his NFL hopes after doing well in the short-lived Alliance of American Football league.
Imagine Wolford's situation. He’s not going to say, “Hey, don’t start me, Sean; let Jared have it,” even if he had that option.
And imagine if McVay chooses to start Goff and Goff throws three interceptions, gets sacked four times and the Rams lose by a big margin.
That has to be running through McVay's mind too. If he starts Wolford and the Rams win, McVay looks like a genius who is not letting the money matters affect his better judgment when it comes to winning a game.
It's very possible McVay has already made his decision and has told Goff and Wolford who will start but will not reveal his choice to the public.
The bottom line is that if Goff does not start Saturday’s game against the Packers, it would represent the benching of one of the highest-paid players in the league who was a No. 1 overall draft pick and had been the starter until his injury. And he would lose his job to a guy who played little more than one NFL game. And it would be on the biggest stage in sports.
Maybe McVay could convince Goff that the benching would be because he doesn't believe Goff's thumb is healthy enough to throw accurately, arguing that Goff would be his guy if he were completely healthy.
Regardless, a decision to start Wolford would sting, leaving options Goff and the Rams don't even want to consider.
Cover photo of Jared Goff (16) and John Wolford is by Joe Nicholson, USA TODAY Sports
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