John Niyo: Goff 'hungry' to prove Lions right after Stafford trade

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John Niyo, The Detroit News
·6 min read
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Mar. 20—A quarterback has to know where the pressure's coming from, at all times.

That's a prerequisite for the job, particularly in the NFL. And it's one we've all got questions about with Jared Goff here in Detroit, having seen the way he just got sacked in Los Angeles.

Five years after the Rams mortgaged a chunk of their future to trade up and draft Goff with the No. 1 overall pick, two seasons after he led them to a Super Bowl, and less than 18 months after signing him to a $134 million contract extension, they shipped their franchise quarterback to Detroit in a blockbuster trade for Matthew Stafford, even throwing in some expensive draft capital and a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope.

Goff, a two-time Pro Bowler, was admittedly blindsided by that move, even though his relationship with head coach Sean McVay had deteriorated along with his play the past couple of seasons. There were too many turnovers, some frayed lines of communication, and ultimately, there was Goff, a California native who'd spent his whole life in the Golden State, buying a winter coat and packing his bags for the Motor City.

On Friday, at the end of his first week in town, Goff finally met with the media to talk about all that. To address what happened in L.A. and why, sure. But also explain how "excited" he is "to start my next chapter" with a team that's all too familiar with turning the page.

Calming presence

And I'd say the Lions' new quarterback showed pretty good pocket presence, for what it's worth. Goff seems to understand where he is, and why that matters here more than it does just about anywhere else in the NFL. Because when you sign up to play for the Lions, particularly in his position, you're asked to take ownership of the Ford family's history with this franchise as well, like it or not.

Which means self-awareness is always Job 1, to paraphrase the old automaker slogan. And after getting to know his new bosses, from owner Sheila Ford Hamp to head coach Dan Campbell, and doing some house shopping in the area with his girlfriend, Christen Harper, and trying out a few restaurants around town, Goff says he has gotten a taste for what this'll be like, from "being out in the city and just seeing how bad people want it."

"Everyone I've spoken to has been very hungry, as am I," he said. "It kind of lines up pretty good, how I'm feeling and how they're feeling. ... I remember what Dan said in his press conference when he got hired. I know you guys have heard the same thing over and over, and I'm not here to say the same thing again. But I am here to prove it."

Say what you will about Goff's ability to do that, given the talent that'll surround him this fall amid a roster overhaul that's only just begun. But his motivation is part of this deal, too, as the 26-year-old quarterback quickly pivoted from disappointment to determination after the trade went down in late January.

"I think it builds that chip on your shoulder a little bit, I won't lie about that," said Goff, who has as many postseason wins (three) in five years in the league as Stafford had playoff starts in his 12 seasons in Detroit. "There is that little extra motivation and chip that you do feel. Again, I am so thankful for all my time there, but yeah, you do feel that. You do feel a little bit of, 'OK, let's see what we can do now.'"

Lions fans will have to wait another six months to see what Goff can do, of course. To see how Campbell's high-energy approach will translate on the field and how first-time general manager Brad Holmes vision looks not just in practice, but in games.

Same goes for how this team responds to a new leader, with Goff taking the wheel after more than a decade with Stafford in the driver's seat. The new guy knows the comparisons are inevitable, and they'll grow old quickly, though the two laid-back personalities are pretty similar. Still, Goff handled the media blitz just fine Friday, even when he was asked about Stafford's pain tolerance and pluck.

Similar grit

"I think I'm similarly tough," Goff said, smiling. "I know he's a very tough guy, but I played through a broken thumb about two months ago. So I think I've got some toughness to me as well. Some grit and some perseverance and some of that stuff that this city's made of.

"You know, a lot of the stuff I've heard so far — and I'm still learning — but a lot of people in this city work blue-collar jobs, they go to work Monday through Saturday, and Sunday is their day to watch the Lions play. And I plan to make that a good day for them."

Goff is quick to say he doesn't view this as a rebuild in Detroit — echoing what we've heard from Holmes and Campbell — but the quarterback also points to his own track record with football carpentry jobs.

In college, he helped take a Cal program that went 1-11 in his freshman season to eight wins and a bowl bid before he left. The Rams went 4-12 his rookie year and then went 11-5 and 13-3 in his first two seasons as a starter, winning the NFC championship in 2018. It was heady stuff for a franchise that hadn't been to the playoffs in a dozen years. But it was also a learning experience,

"I think that kind of tests who you are as a man," Goff said, "to kind of hit rock bottom at times and be able to climb back up."

And if he felt like the fall guy in Los Angeles, well, he's feeling something else now, knowing he's somewhere where he's wanted, where the GM calls him a "proven winner" and "big part of what we're doing going forward."

How long that lasts, only time will tell. The Lions could go draft their quarterback of the future next month, or next year, with the draft picks Holmes is stockpiling. And as Goff himself noted Friday, "in this league, everything's changing, especially at the quarterback position."

But as for this change?

"I was disappointed for 2 minutes," Goff said of that Saturday-night surprise in January. "And then I spoke to these guys on the phone, and it was like a breath of fresh air. It was immediate, like, 'OK, this is where I'm supposed to be.'"

jniyo@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JohnNiyo