Goff, the NFL’s sixth-highest rated quarterback since the start of the 2022 season with the league’s best touchdown-to-interception ratio in that span (4.1, more than twice the NFL average, with Jalen Hurts next at 3.4), was masterful in getting that game to overtime. He immediately orchestrated a 75-yard touchdown drive after his mistake, and completed 8 of 10 passes for 86 yards his final two possessions. He finished the game a sterling 28 of 35 for 323 yards with three touchdowns, the huge interception (ending a streak of 383 attempts without one) and a rating of 121.8.
It is perhaps fitting that he joins Matthew Stafford — the Rams QB for whom he was “traded” in 2021 (Goff’s inclusion was viewed by rival teams as essentially as a contract dump at the time) — and Kirk Cousins, who several executives see as a potential Goff salary comparison, as the only men to throw for at least 250 yards in each of the first two weeks of what’s been an ugly start for NFL passers. While we can debate how transcendent he is, whether he’s merely a “system guy,” and if the Lions should have already extended him during an offseason of soaring QB contracts, all can agree that Goff has greatly outperformed what’s remaining on his contract, casting an intriguing backdrop to a Lions season that’s already far more interesting than the two dozen or so preceding it.
“I keep hearing they really want to get something done with him,” said one general manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is restricted from discussing players on other rosters. “They want to keep building around him. I know he’s played well for them, but I don’t think I could pay what it’s going to take to get that done. That’s a tricky one. How good is he? It’s like Cousins, right? He’s going to put up a lot of numbers and you’ll win enough in the regular season, but can you win a Super Bowl with him?”
One longtime NFL executive who negotiates contracts and is under similar restraints said: “With where quarterback salaries are now, I wouldn’t do it. I’d have already drafted one or be looking to draft one. It’s getting too expensive to keep these kind of guys now.” (This executive’s team has a QB on a rookie salary.)
A contract negotiator for another NFL team that has a QB on a rookie deal, said: “That one’s not for me. I’m biased because I’ve never thought much of Goff. No thanks.”
Of course, that’s easy for them to say. It’s not their problem, with Goff now standing just 16th among QBs in average salary ($33.5 million), 16th in 2023 total compensation ($21.65 million), and, you guessed it, right in the middle of the pack in cash owed in 2024. This after Joe Burrow pushed the new stratosphere to $55 million a season, and Patrick Mahomes got a restructured deal with more than $210 million guaranteed over the next four years. So, what’s Goff really worth?
“Good question,” said someone who has been involved in negotiating quarterback contracts for decades. (This person spoke on the condition of anonymity because he does not represent Goff.) “If top of the market is now $52-$55 [million per season], I’d say mid-to high 40s.”
The GM said: “As much as I wouldn’t want to pay him, the agent has to ask for $45 [million], right? You have to be prepared to pay that number if you go into this with them, I think. And, like I said, I hear [the Lions] want to get this done.”
Indeed, Goff’s value is difficult to quantify.
Rams wunderkind coach Sean McVay, of all people, handpicked him first overall in 2016 and quickly reached a Super Bowl with him, before the Rams paid him more than many thought they had to (a four-year, $134 million deal with steep cap ramifications). McVay’s Rams ate much of that to ship him out and upgrade to Stafford, who made more than $200 million in Detroit without a playoff win and immediately delivered a Lombardi Trophy to La-La Land.
Goff lacks the mobility and athleticism so prized in top quarterbacks these days. He was seen as a franchise albatross not that long ago and has a muted persona — he won’t be lifting your Q ratings with national commercials or fiery speeches and antics. He arrived in Detroit with Coach Dan Campbell before the 2021 season with the franchise again in the dumpster, quietly took his lumps and absorbed a bevy of huge hits in that 3-13-1 campaign. Last year, he joined Stafford (four times) and Charlie Batch as the only quarterbacks to have a winning season in Detroit since 2000.
Since the Lions assembled what’s now considered a top offensive line before last season, Goff has been excellent. Through two games in 2023, he is third in the NFL in passer rating (109), and already beat the reigning champs in Kansas City in Week 1. His 33 touchdown passes since the start of 2022 rank fifth and he’s fourth with 5,014 passing yards (though his air yards/attempt are below the NFL average). And Goff been a perfect fit for his environment, which features young coordinator Ben Johnson’s dynamic offense — built on multiplicity in the run game and play-action efficiency — and Ford Field’s controlled climate and fast track, which encourages precision short passing to maximize yards after the catch.
Goff leads the NFL with a 124.8 rating on play action passes since Week 1 of 2022. He is also the NFL’s leader in passer rating at home in that span (110.8). The young Lions tend to be stuck in close games, and Goff is among the top-rated QBs in the fourth quarter since 2022 (100.1; 86.4 is average). While Johnson’s probing run game sometimes bogs down inside the red zone as the field shrinks, Goff’s 24-1 TD-INT ratio there since the start of last season is also among the best in the league.
Consider also that the Lions currently have one proven impact pass catcher on the roster in Amon-Ra St. Brown, with 2022 top pick Jameson Williams limited to six total games due to injury and a gambling suspension. And recall they dealt Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson, now the league’s highest-paid player at his position, to the rival Vikings at midseason, just as the offense was starting to evolve.
“They should have just paid Hockenson, that was stupid,” the GM said. “He should be Goff’s favorite target right now. That was the time to start spending money, not trading high-end starters on their rookie deals.”
Again, this is complicated to quantify, especially with how Stafford prospered when the Lions finally opted to let him go, and how bleak Detroit’s history has been. Goff is four years younger than Smith, who got a decent bridge deal from Seattle this offseason but lacks Goff’s draft stature and postseason pedigree. He’s seven years younger than Cousins, who has repeatedly parlayed short-term deals into premium compensation and lines up as the prize of the 2024 QB free agent class. Teams are generally reluctant to let quality starters get to their “walk year,” and the price of quarterbacks is always going up.
Merely reaching the playoffs might feel like a Super Bowl to the lowly Lions, but that’s not the stuff that title chases are made of. A Goff extension is the kind of first-world quarterback quandary this franchise has rarely faced, and it will be the first substantial test for a new front office.