Sean McVay knows the storyline and, not surprisingly, he tried to downplay it.
On Sunday, Jared Goff returns to SoFi Stadium as the quarterback for the winless Detroit Lions. It’s a homecoming for the player the Rams selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft — and then unceremoniously traded to the Lions for quarterback Matthew Stafford after last season.
“There’s going to be a lot made of it because he’s the quarterback, and it’s such a significant position, and all the good things he had done for us and for this team and the success that he had,” McVay said of Goff on Monday during a videoconference with reporters. “But it’s about the Lions versus the Rams.”
Offensive lineman Rob Havenstein offered a similar assessment.
“It is a business — guys get traded, cut, waived all the time,” he said. “It’s something to talk about, obviously, but … it’s the Rams versus the Lions.”
The Rams are 5-1, the Lions 0-6. Not exactly a compelling matchup.
But the McVay-Goff drama endures.
Together, they helped the Rams win NFC West titles in 2017 and 2018 and make a Super Bowl run. Goff was twice selected to the Pro Bowl, and the Rams rewarded him with a $134-million extension that included $110 million in guarantees.
But Goff’s performance thereafter waned. The Rams missed the playoffs in 2019, and McVay appeared to grow frustrated and sour on his Goff in the latter part of the 2020 season. After Goff suffered a thumb injury against the Seattle Seahawks, McVay started backup John Wolford in the finale against the Arizona Cardinals and in the wild-card playoff game against the Seahawks.
When Wolford suffered a neck injury in the first quarter of the playoff game, Goff came on and led the Rams to victory. Goff started the divisional-round loss to the Green Bay Packers, but afterward McVay and general manager Les Snead gave him no vote of confidence.
Two weeks after the playoff defeat, with McVay and Stafford both vacationing in Mexico, the Rams sent Goff and two first-round draft picks to Lions for Stafford, a 12-year veteran with no playoff victories.
Goff said in the immediate aftermath that he was caught off guard and had not had any communication with McVay before the trade.
“Could I have handled it better in terms of, ‘Hey, if there’s a possibility of it let’s get ahead, even if you’re out of town, ‘yada, yada, yada?’ …. Yes, I wish that there was better, clearer communication.,” McVay said, adding, “I know I would do it a little bit differently when those situations arise in the future, but I think Jared knows the respect I have for him. I feel very good about the dialogue that we were able to have before he had gone to Detroit. …
“To say that it was perfectly handled on my end … wouldn’t be totally accurate. But I’ll never claim to be perfect. But I will try to learn from some things that I can do better and think that was one of them without a doubt.”
McVay said he would always be appreciative of Goff’s contributions to the Rams success. The trade was driven by “a rare opportunity to acquire a player of Matthew’s caliber,” McVay said.
“Those opportunities don’t come up often,” McVay said. “The studying and evaluation of his game, and the kind of organic interaction that was able to occur in Cabo [San Lucas], it was kind of a very unique situation to say the least and that’s what led to the decision being made in the manner and timing that it was.”
McVay said he would always remember celebrating with Goff and the team in Tennessee in 2017 and in Detroit in 2018 after the Rams clinched the NFC West. He recalled Goff’s five-touchdown performance against the Minnesota Vikings in a 2018 “Thursday Night Football” victory, and “a great performance in crunch time” in the NFC championship game against the New Orleans Saints that sent the Rams to the Super Bowl.
“Even though it was a tough circumstance and not an ideal way to kind of have him to go to the Lions and things like that,” McVay said, “I think the further that things go on, the more you can reflect back in a positive way of all the good things that occurred over those four years that were together.”
Backup tight end Johnny Mundt suffered a season-ending knee injury and running back/kick returner Jake Funk suffered a season ending hamstring injury against the Giants, McVay said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.