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The Rams spent all off-season locking up key players for another playoff run. They signed running back Todd Gurley (four years $57 million), wide receiver Brandin Cooks (five years $80 million), offensive tackle Rob Havenstein (four years $32.5 million), and now defensive tackle Aaron Donald (6 years $135 million).

General manager Les Snead has accomplished all of this without putting the team in salary cap jail for years to come. Even after Donald’s record-setting deal, there is one person left for Snead to decide on investing in or letting walk and that’s quarterback Jared Goff.

Goff is entering his third season and will be a free agent in two years. The Rams are all in this season and now Goff has to prove he can make the leap from competent quarterback to franchise star.

When Snead traded a boatload of picks for Goff in 2016 it baffled fans and analysts writ large. He and Carson Wentz (whom the Eagles also traded a king’s ransom for) were the top two quarterbacks in the draft but neither was a guaranteed franchise star.

Wentz had moments in his rookie season, whereas Goff did not. He was buried on the depth chart behind Case Keenum (now with the Broncos) and Sean Mannion. Goff only started because the walls were closing around then head coach Jeff Fisher.

Goff was set up to fail and fail he did. He started seven games and threw five touchdowns, seven picks, with 1089 passing yards and completed 54.1 percent of his passes. Management knew that if they were going to salvage their number one pick they’d need to give him a better chance to succeed.

They hired Sean McVay and built an offense around Goff. It turns out this is all he needed. Goff started fifteen games last season throwing 28 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 3,804 passing yards, and a 62.1 percent completion percentage.

This is a significant jump and it would seem that it’s case closed on whether or not Goff is the franchise quarterback he’s expected to be. Not so fast.

While he did make a major leap it still isn’t clear whether or not it’s because he’s an avatar for McVay. Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey summed up the Goff debate, among others, in his August GQ interview.

“Jared Goff, he’s average to above average, Year one, he wasn’t good,” Ramsey said. “He wasn’t even good enough to earn his own starting role. Like, if you the number one pick, you expected to start now. Period. He wasn’t ready to do that. He wasn’t able to do that. Then when he did get in, he didn’t really do that good.”

Ramsey presented the other side of the argument as well.

“But in his second year, they got a new offensive coordinator. Your offensive coordinator is just your Brainiac, when we played them, it felt like his offensive coordinator was drawing up perfect plays and then he was hitting the open man. For what his team ask him to do, yeah, he’s good.”

Goff no longer gets to benefit from the low expectations coming in his rookie year adjusting from the spread offense he ran in college. He struggled in the regular season last year against the Eagles and Vikings because their defensive lines were able to disrupt the rhythm of McVay’s plays. In the playoffs, the Falcons were able to key in on where the ball was going because of Goff’s inability to audible.

The good news is McVay knows that his offense is likely to have been the main subject of defensive offseason meetings. This means that the play calling will change and Goff can handle a bigger load as can the weapons around him.

Cooks was brought in to be the versatile deep threat Sammy Watkins was not. The tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee can be more involved, as well as rookie running back John Kelly.

Jared Goff’s performance can’t exist without comparisons to fellow draft mate Wentz. Last year Wentz was a surefire MVP candidate prior to tearing his ACL (coincidentally against the Rams).  While former Ram Nick Foles was the MVP of the Super Bowl, Wentz will assume the starting role again once he’s healthy.

Now it’s Goff’s time to shine. He has everything at his disposal and fortunately, last year’s playoff run gave Goff some valuable high-pressure reps. His extension won’t rest on whether or not the Rams win a ring. A Super Bowl victory in Atlanta would seal the deal but what matters is what happens when he’s on the league’s biggest stages. So is he average, above average, or the future of the franchise? The world will get their answer this season.

Sports Al Dente 2019

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