Jared Goff and Anthony Lynn, discarded by L.A., find common cause in Detroit
They arrived in Los Angeles in the hopes of building something special.
They left in dejection and disappointment.
Goff is the quarterback the Rams swapped for Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. Lynn was the first head coach of the relocated Los Angeles Chargers but was fired in January, less than a year after signing a contract extension. He’s now the Lions’ offensive coordinator, his future tied to a quarterback with whom he once shared space in SoFi Stadium.
“I’ve never been fired before in my life, so it took me a little while to get over that,” Lynn told the Los Angeles Times last week after a training camp practice.
“I was going to take a gap year. Ever since I was 6 years old, I haven’t done anything but football. Then this opportunity came up. I had made my mind up that I was staying out this year. But I said, ‘Hey, I can do this.’”
There’s no tragedy here. It’s the way of the NFL. People — successful people — are fired and hired, traded and cut every week. But for Goff and Lynn, there’s a little extra sting to their departures. They were once central figures in their respective locker rooms, but neither played in front of fans at SoFi Stadium. The first time they will experience crowds in that multibillion-dollar venue, they will be on the visitors’ side, when the Lions play at the Rams on Oct. 24.
Both experienced their L.A. apex during the 2018 season. Lynn guided the Chargers to a 12-4 record and a wild-card playoff victory on the road against Lamar Jackson’s Baltimore Ravens. Goff reached the Super Bowl. Both teams saw their season end with a loss to the New England Patriots. The future was bright.
Two years later, Goff and Lynn were packing their bags.
“Life happens. That’s the way it goes. It wasn’t meant to be.”
— Jared Goff
The Rams mortgaged their future to get Goff in 2016, sending six picks, including two firsts, to move up to the top spot in the draft from No. 15. No franchise had ever traded up that far to get the No. 1 pick. After a slow start in the withering Jeff Fisher regime, Goff quickly hit his stride under new coach Sean McVay.
Goff had his share of L.A. highlights. There was the Thursday night victory over Minnesota — 465 yards passing, with five touchdowns to four different receivers — and the epic 54-51 thriller over Kansas City on Monday Night Football. There was the pivotal first-down run in a playoff victory over Dallas.
“The way it ended was sour,” he said, “but there’s so many good things we did there, so much fun, so many good memories I’ll remember forever.”
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The particulars of that sour ending aren’t entirely known. What’s clear is that McVay did not have faith that Goff was the quarterback to best execute his plan. The coach wanted an upgrade, and seemingly got one in Matthew Stafford, an elite passer who, although he never won a playoff game, routinely generated a lot of offense in Detroit despite the consistent absence of a running game.
The Rams’ practices look different now, with Stafford wowing spectators with his surgically precise passes, putting the football where only the receiver can get it. Longtime Lions observers say Detroit practices look different, too, now with a quarterback and his more mortal arm.
But bring on the low expectations, say Goff and Lynn.
“It’s the challenge that’s so fun for me,” Goff said. “The outside expectation is low. That’s fine. We don’t pay attention to it. But the challenge that I have and we all have is to build this thing from the ground up.”
As for Lynn, he has more regrets. The Chargers finished 7-9 in his final season, with seven of those losses by one score or less. Saddled with the reputation of a coach who couldn’t manage the clock, he said he wished now that, rather than lashing out at his critics, he would have spent more time explaining his decisions to use or not use timeouts.
He said he wished he hadn’t taken over special teams in the middle of last season. Given the chance to do it over, he would have delegated more. “I wound up being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of nothing,” he said.
Of course, all that is history.
“I know I’d be a better head coach now than I was four years ago,” he said. “But right now my main focus is just being an offensive coordinator and helping us win football games here.”
Matthew Stafford showed no ill effects from a thumb injury and hit DeSean Jackson on a deep pass as the Rams scrimmaged the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard.
Brad Holmes, the new general manager of the Lions, came from the Rams, where he was the director of college scouting. He was always a proponent of Goff, and was pleased to get him in the exchange, painful as it was to give up a top-shelf talent like Stafford, who had asked to be traded.
“I called [Goff] after the trade, and he needed some time to get his bearings together,” said Holmes. “After about two minutes, he says, ‘Alright, I’m ready to roll. Let’s make this thing go.’ Two minutes of, ‘Wow. OK. Wow.’ But then he was ready.
“I wound up being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of nothing.”
— Anthony Lynn
“He’s got a different swagger about him now. You can see the breath of fresh air he’s walking around with. He’s always been a confident kid to me, but I just see that he’s a little different now.”
At 26, Goff is no longer a wide-eyed kid but a seasoned veteran ready to take a leadership role.
“I’ve obviously matured,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot. I’ve seen the game from a new perspective and appreciate it more than I ever have. … This gives me the ability to be that veteran guy and be that leader for a lot of these young guys and transition into that part of my career.”
And he has that opportunity in a market starkly different from the one he left.
“In L.A., everything was so new there, and the fan base grew over time,” he said. “It took a couple years, and I’m sure it’s still growing.
“But here there’s roots, man. There’s roots and you can feel it. Throughout the city, you see it everywhere. You see Lions fans, you see stickers on cars, license plates. It’s passion, and they care.”
Holmes and first-year coach Dan Campbell met with Goff soon after he arrived in Detroit and unfurled their expectations.
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“We’re not putting any pressure on him — be who you are,” Holmes said. “But we’re going to give him full ownership. ‘This is your offense. If things aren’t running right, if there’s a script in practice that didn’t get off to the right start, you start it over.’ That’s the ownership he has.
“I remember when Dan told him that in his office.”
It was a meaningful gift and obligation, one befitting the Motor City.
Goff has the keys to the car.
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