Exclusive: Jared Goff unsure why he became wrong for Rams, but ‘the feeling’s mutual’

Rams quarterback Jared Goff walks through the tunnel at the Coliseum in 2019.
Former Rams quarterback Jared Goff will be in a different uniform next season after being traded to the Lions.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Competing emotions have come at quarterback Jared Goff like an all-out blitz from every angle — sadness, confusion, frustration, hope, elation and gratitude — and his head is still spinning, a few days after the Rams traded him to the Detroit Lions.

The deal that ended his time in Los Angeles surprised Goff, and the reality is only starting to sink in.

“Ultimately, they wanted to go in a different direction,” Goff, part of a blockbuster quarterback swap that sent Matthew Stafford to the Rams, said Tuesday. “As the quarterback, as the guy that’s at arguably the most important position on the field, if you’re in a place that you’re not wanted and they want to move on from you, the feeling’s mutual.


“You don’t want to be in the wrong place. It became increasingly clear that was the case. [The trade] is something that I’m hopeful is going to be so good for my career.”

In a half-hour phone interview with The Times, Goff said he learned of the trade immediately after it happened Saturday night, two weeks after the Rams were eliminated from the NFL playoffs in the divisional round by the Green Bay Packers.

It was an abrupt end for the first pick in the 2016 draft, who twice made the Pro Bowl, and two years earlier helped the Rams to their first Super Bowl in 17 years.

“I really enjoyed my time here,” said Goff, 26, “I want to leave this on a positive note. Obviously, the ending wasn’t favorable and wasn’t fun. But them drafting me No. 1 overall and bringing me to a city that hasn’t had a football team in a long time, being a part of that rebuild after 2016, being able to help bring L.A. football back to prominence, all that stuff I take extreme pride in. It’s something that I’ll always remember.”

Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) and running back Todd Gurley prepare to take the field in 2019.
The Rams’ offense was once built around quarterback Jared Goff (16) and running back Todd Gurley, now with Detroit and Atlanta, respectively.
(Los Angeles Times)

Between 2005 and 2016, the Rams failed to make the playoffs. In four years with Goff as their starter, they reached the wild-card round, Super Bowl and divisional round.


The Rams declined to comment for this story, because they are prohibited from doing so until the trade becomes official in March at the start of the new league year. The Lions sent them Stafford in exchange for Goff, a third-round pick this year and two first-rounders in the following two years.

Goff, who before the 2019 season signed an extension that included a then-record $110 million in guarantees, isn’t sure when the tide turned against him.

“That’s the tough part right now is trying to figure that out, when did that happen?” he said. “Those are all conversations that I may or may not have, and try to figure it out. That’s the conversation to have.”

Asked if it is strange that he has yet to have that talk with the Rams, he said: “A little bit, yeah.”

The subtle hints of a divorce between Rams coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff slowly intensified as the season progressed, culminating Saturday when an agreement was made to trade the quarterback to the Detroit Lions, along with 2022 and 2023 first-round draft picks and a 2021 third-round selection, in exchange for Matthew Stafford.

Feb. 1, 2021

This season Goff passed for 20 touchdowns, the fewest since his rookie year, with 13 interceptions. He also fumbled seven times, losing four.

After a Nov. 29 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, in which Goff had two interceptions and a fumble, Rams coach Sean McVay abandoned his familiar self-blaming and called out Goff publicly for the first time, saying the quarterback needed to take better care of the football.


Down the stretch, the tension mounted as Goff missed several opportunities in a loss to the winless New York Jets.

But a pivotal moment occurred after he suffered a broken thumb on his throwing hand in the second-to-last game at Seattle. Although Goff gritted through the pain and finished the game, he underwent thumb surgery the following day.

“The next day, my thumb was swollen to the point where I wouldn’t be able to move it,” Goff said. “It was as big as you can get your thumb. Enormous. It was either hope that swelling goes down by this week, or get surgery, miss a week and move forward. That was clearly the best way to do it.”

Rams wide receiver Robert Woods celebrates with quarterback Jared Goff.
Rams wide receiver Robert Woods (17) celebrates with quarterback Jared Goff (16) after a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 23, 2020, in Tampa, Fla.
(Jason Behnken / Associated Press)

In the finale against the Arizona Cardinals, backup John Wolford, playing in his first NFL game, helped the Rams to victory and a spot in the playoffs.

Heading into a postseason opener at Seattle, Goff still was recovering from surgery but felt he was ready to play. McVay chose to start Wolford, and relegated Goff to backup. But Wolford suffered a neck injury in the first quarter, and Goff came off the bench, passed for a touchdown and led the Rams to victory.


With Wolford ruled out, Goff started the divisional game at Green Bay, and despite a still-healing thumb, passed for a touchdown and didn’t make any major mistakes.

After the game, McVay was asked if Goff was his quarterback. The coach qualified his response by saying Goff was the quarterback “right now.” In a news conference the next day, McVay said there would be competition at every position, including quarterback.

Nine days later, general manager Les Snead echoed McVay by saying that Goff was the quarterback “in this moment.” Four days after that, the Rams traded Goff.

“Regardless of how it ended, me and Sean had a great relationship and did so many great things together,” Goff said. “Won a bunch of big games. Won a bunch of playoff games. Won two divisions together. Having so much success on the offense, so many good times and memories.

“Unfortunately it ended sourly, but it still doesn’t take away from all those times we had.”

Goff still has lingering questions.

The Rams knew they wouldn’t win a title any time soon with Jared Goff, so they’re going all-in on Matthew Stafford for their 2022 Super Bowl hopes.

Feb. 1, 2021

“When you first hear it, it’s difficult, it’s disappointing,” he said. “But you get so excited that you get a fresh start. You get to be somewhere you’re believed in. That clearly wasn’t the case here anymore, and when that happened, I don’t know.

“There’s still some conversations to be had. Those will shed some light, obviously, and I’ll be able to understand things a little bit more. But at today’s given time, I want my message to be a thankful one to the city of L.A. and the Kroenke family [who owns the team], and to the Rams organization for my time with them.


“It’s disappointing and unfortunate the way it ended, but there were so many great times and so many great wins, so many great memories in practice, the locker room, in meetings. That stuff will last me forever.”

The son of a firefighter, Goff had been involved in California Strong, a movement providing relief for families that lost their homes in recent years to wildfires. Last spring, Goff donated $250,000 to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank — along with a matching donation from Rams teammate Andrew Whitworth — upon learning the coronavirus outbreak would impact students dependent on free lunches. He had been working with the Inglewood School District on initiatives involving elementary schools, including providing funds for a remodeled library at Warren Lane Elementary, a project that is currently underway.

“L.A. became home for me,” said Goff, a Bay Area native. “It’s a place where I put my roots in the ground. Being able to affect the community in Inglewood over the past year or two has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life.

“One thing I said to them this year is, ‘this isn’t a one-year thing. This isn’t just right now. This isn’t a PR move. I’m going to be here a long time, and I’m going to be with you guys a long time.’

“Unfortunately, obviously, things changed quickly. But that doesn’t mean I’m leaving them, or no longer involved in their community or helping those children out of tough situations and raising them up. That will continue.”

Rams quarterback Jared Goff celebrates as he leaves the field after the team defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff celebrates as he leaves the field after the team defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 23, 2020, in Tampa, Fla.
(Jason Behnken / Associated Press)

Goff said he was “extremely disappointed and upset” upon learning of the trade, but his mood brightened within 30 minutes after speaking to the Lions, whose new general manager, Brad Holmes, was director of college scouting for the Rams, and whose new offensive coordinator is former Chargers coach Anthony Lynn.

Talking to the Lions, Goff said, “is what made me go, ‘oh my God, this is how it’s supposed to feel. This makes me feel great,’ how excited they were, how fired up they were.”

He added: “As time has gone on over the last few days, and even the end of that night, it becomes a positive and you start to feel really good about yourself again. You start to feel, I don’t want to say relief is the word, but you start to feel happy, grateful, ready for a new opportunity. That’s the biggest feeling that I was overcome with that night, and even in the days following.

“Of course you go back and forth, and your emotions go all over the place. But for the most part it’s been this feeling of gratefulness for what I was able to do here and accomplish in L.A., and at the same time excitement for the city I’m coming to, the city I’m going to bring a whole lot of passion to, and a whole lot of hopefully success for a long time.

“I’m not going to sit here and beat my own drum, but I have a lot of pride in being able to be resilient, to have that as a part of my makeup. We had so many great times here, and then there were times that I did have to dig deep, be a man about it, and handle things the right way. I think I did that.”

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this story.