With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the quarterback position on the Los Angeles Rams:
2018 cap hits of top returnees:
Jared Goff: $7.62 million
Sean Mannion: $1.03 million
Brandon Allen: $630,000
Pending free agents: None.
Key stat: Goff's passer rating increased from 63.6 as a rookie to 100.5 as a second-year player, accounting for the biggest jump among those who attempted at least 200 passes in each of the past two seasons. In his first year under coach Sean McVay, Goff also made big strides in completion percentage (54.6 to 62.1), yards per attempt (5.3 to 8.0), touchdown-to-interception ratio (0.7 to 4.0) and Total QBR (18.3 to 52.0). He was invited to the Pro Bowl and has started developing into the franchise quarterback the Rams were hoping to get when they selected him with the top pick of the 2016 draft.
Money matters: The best, most cost-effective way to succeed at quarterback is to draft and develop your own. That's why the Rams moved up 14 spots to select Goff No. 1 overall in 2016. He will cost about $16.5 million toward the cap the next two years, then can play under his fifth-year option in 2020. But the Rams might want to lock him up before then because the price to retain quarterbacks rises quickly. Jimmy Garoppolo just signed an extension with the San Francisco 49ers that pays him an average salary of $27.5 million -- after seven career starts.
Big picture: The Rams went from Kurt Warner to Marc Bulger, then hit a major dry spell. They drafted Sam Bradford first overall in 2010, but ACL injuries forced him to sit the second half of 2013 and the entirety of 2014. From 2013 to 2016, the Rams employed seven starting quarterbacks, including Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis, Shaun Hill, Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Bradford and Goff. Those QBs combined for a 37.5 Total QBR, the worst in the NFL in that four-season stretch.
But the Rams firmly believe that they found their long-term franchise quarterback in Goff, largely because they feel even more confident about what surrounds him. Goff is operating behind an offensive line that is significantly improved by the addition of left tackle Andrew Whitworth. He is throwing to a young and talented group of receivers led by Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp and handing the ball off to arguably the game's best running back in Todd Gurley. McVay, the head coach and playcaller, is 32 and just won the Associated Press Coach of the Year Award.
The game plan: To continue growing with Goff, who the Rams believe can get even better in Year 3. Eventually -- if he develops the way they hope -- they'll have to pay him in line with the game's highest-paid players. But that isn't the focus right now; it's to continue to build stability on offense. The Rams have nine of 11 offensive starters returning, and their only two free agents, receiver Sammy Watkins and center John Sullivan, have a decent chance of coming back. Their two starting tight ends, Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, two leading receivers, Woods and Kupp, and Gurley are all 25 or younger and signed for at least the next two seasons. But the Rams need to get going on their next wave of offensive linemen.
Three starters -- left guard Rodger Saffold, right guard Jamon Brown and right tackle Rob Havenstein -- are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents next offseason. Whitworth is 36, and Sullivan, 32, could hit the open market. At some point, the Rams also need to find out about Goff's backup, Mannion, a third-round pick in 2015 who has thrown only 50 NFL passes and is a year away from free agency. Gone from last season's staff are offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur (holding the same title, but with more responsibility, on the Tennessee Titans) and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson (now the offensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders). McVay will be spending a lot more time with Goff moving forward.