The sun may rise in the East, at least it settles in the final location…..
Never, ever, ever did I think I’d be using a line from a Red Hot Chili Peppers song as the lede to an article about an NFL team’s quarterback situation. If you want a reason as to why I’m suddenly grabbing wisdom pearls from “Californication”, here’s an explanation:
As you already know, the Los Angeles Rams are on HBO’s Hard Knocks this season. During the first episode of the show, #1 overall pick and quarterback Jared Goff was asked by his position coach, Chris Weinke, where the sun rises and sets in the sky. His answer? He had no clue. Obviously, it rises in the East and sets in the West, which would seem like common knowledge, except for the fact that it apparently isn’t. And it seems like Goff is far from alone on the team in terms of his ignorance of the Sun’s activity.
So hey, let’s make a case for him as an NFL team’s starting quarterback, shall we?
To begin, Goff, as previously stated, was the first overall pick in this year’s draft. Out of the last five quarterbacks selected first overall (Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston), exactly zero of them did not start for their team in week one of the season. Granted, the Rams are in a theoretically better position than all of those teams were, but the precedent set by these quarterbacks is clear. However, we need to look far beyond precedent to see why Goff should be the team’s starting quarterback at the beginning of the season.
One of the things we need to examine here is the Los Angeles Rams’ current state of affairs. While there is a lot of excitement for the team’s move to the West Coast, the reality of the situation is that the Rams just aren’t that great of a team right now. That means that expectations should not be set very high this season; while that doesn’t mean the team should try to lose, it does mean that the organization should take more of a forward-thinking approach when it comes to personnel.
But why are we having this discussion in the first place? Well….
When Goff was selected at the top of the draft, many observers concluded that he would begin the season as the Rams’ starting quarterback. It seemed like the franchise had finally settled on its guy and would take the lumps that came with Goff’s development. And then it decided to seriously consider another option, even if it was an option that wasn’t a whole lot more experienced than Goff.
That option is Case Keenum. Keenum, the fifth-year quarterback who made a name for himself by throwing for almost 20,000 yards in his five-year collegiate career at Houston, has never started the season as an NFL starting quarterback. That may be about to change, as Keenum took reps with the first team in the Rams’ first preseason game on Saturday. Of course, Goff could still win the job; he’s slated to take more snaps with the starting unit this week. However, it’s clear that the Rams, at least for now, are planning to start the season with Keenum under center.
And, truth be told, Keenum isn’t really that bad. In parts of six games last season, Keenum threw for 828 yards, four touchdowns, and just one interception. That really isn’t terrible; the problem is that those numbers are hopelessly pedestrian and mediocre. Kind of like Jeff Fisher, the Los Angeles Rams’ head coach.
Jeff Fisher is one of the most respected authority figures in the NFL. He has burnished a reputation as a smart, tough leader who gets the most out of his teams no matter how much talent is on the roster. He is regarded as one of the best coaches in the league over the past twenty years, and there is very little argument about this supposed fact.
The only thing is that Jeff Fisher’s reputation is completely unearned.
Over the course of his career, Fisher has won just 52% of his games with the Oilers/Titans and Rams. With the exception of a Super Bowl run in 1999 (fueled in part by an illegal forward pass) and brief spurts of success in the 2000s, Fisher’s teams have largely been in the middle of the league’s pack. That’s not good, especially for a franchise that could use some long-term success after a much-anticipated move back to Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the United States.
That probably informs Fisher’s thinking in the matter. Keenum is the safe option here, the “experienced” choice, the guy who won’t lose you games. Goff is the far more aggressive option, the franchise quarterback, the player whose game-to-game performance may be rather unpredictable.
And yet, I’d start Goff over Keenum. Here’s why: the Rams don’t really have a lot to lose this season. With the team’s return to L.A., the fan base will be excited to watch its beloved Rams no matter how good they are this season. I’m not saying that the Rams shouldn’t try to win, but I am saying that this season is not as important as the future to the team’s long-term and much-needed success.
And if Goff performs well, then he would be a better option than Keenum based on performance alone. We all know that the Ryan Gosling lookalike is going to be the Rams’ starter at some point, so what point is there in delaying his maturation process? While we’ve seen recent examples of teams trotting out quarterbacks who weren’t nearly ready to play (cough, cough, Geno Smith), we’ve also seen plenty of examples of quarterbacks who improved after struggling to start their careers (Newton, Andy Dalton, Aaron Rodgers). It can be done. This could be what the Rams have to look forward to with Jared Goff.
Let me also say this: it isn’t some great injustice if Goff doesn’t start week one. The coaching staff knows the players better than we do and their quarterback decision will be informed by their intimate knowledge of the players and system. They’re at practice every day and they deserve the benefit of the doubt if Keenum is chosen, even if that doesn’t seem like the right decision.
However, it’s easy to see that Goff has far more upside than his veteran counterpart. And, especially with the team’s future being so bright, what do you have to lose by giving Goff the keys to the offense in week one? If you know you’re going to start him at some point anyway, why not start him in the season opener?
Rams fans can dream this season. They can dream of their team’s potential, of selling out the L.A. Coliseum, and even of Californication (hey, we’re right back where we started).
And maybe they can even dream of Jared Goff as their team’s starting quarterback.