Jared Goff's move to Michigan in 2021 might have been exactly what he needed. He might also be what the Lions need at quarterback moving forward.
Goff put together a quality season in 2022, completing 65.1% of his passes for 4,438 yards, a 29-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 99.3 passer rating. More importantly, Goff helped the Lions finish above .500 for the first time since 2017.
That combination of results and general manager Brad Holmes' evaluation of the 2023 draft's quarterbacks could lead to a future with the Lions for Goff.
"I think it's a lot easier to get worse at quarterback than to get better at quarterback in this league," Holmes said Tuesday. "I think what Jared (Goff) has done this year, he captained the ship of a top-three offense and I want to say he was top-10 statistically in most of the passing categories. And again, you know how we approach the draft, like, we're never going to turn down a good football player. So, if it's a football player we really love, I mean, we're going to make sure every stone is unturned, but I do think that Jared has proven (to) everybody that he is a starting quarterback for us."
Although Holmes said Tuesday he never saw him as a bridge quarterback, Goff arrived in Detroit as somewhat of a throw-in to the deal that sent Matthew Stafford to Los Angeles and returned two first-round picks and a third-round selection. Goff represented an immediate replacement for Stafford, but didn't inspire a ton of confidence that he'd become Detroit's long-term answer at the position after sending its franchise signal-caller to greener pastures.
That appeared to be somewhat true in 2021, as the Lions struggled to a 3-13-1 finish and ended up with the second-overall pick of the 2022 draft (which they spent on edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson). But in the few positive moments existed glimpses of what Goff could potentially be for the Lions, provided the circumstances in which he operated got better.
Goff proved this to be true, commanding a shockingly explosive offense that finished sixth in passing yards per game and fifth in passing yards per play. Detroit's offense essentially kept its ship afloat while its defense foundered, and when the latter improved in the second half of the season, the Lions caught fire.
A road loss to Carolina late in the season forced the Lions to hope for external help, and when Seattle defeated the Rams in Week 18, Detroit took the field in Green Bay, knowing its season would be finished at the end of regulation. In a testament to coach Dan Campbell's efforts, the Lions took the field at Lambeau and beat the Packers anyway, with Goff posting a passer rating of 85.9 amid frigid temperatures in the win, sending the Lions into the offseason on a positive note.
What Holmes' decision ultimately will come down to is how highly he views the quarterbacks entering the NFL in 2023. The class includes headliners C.J. Stroud (Ohio State) and Bryce Young (Alabama), but at this point, none of the prospects are seen as generational talents like Trevor Lawrence and Andrew Luck once were.
At 9-8, one might believe the Lions won't be in range to take a top quarterback anyway. This is true, as Detroit's pick is slotted for 18th overall, but the trade that netted them Goff also included the Rams' 2023 first-round selection, which landed at sixth overall thanks to Los Angeles' 5-12 finish a year after winning the Super Bowl.
If Holmes wants a quarterback, this might be his best chance to snag one. Detroit showed significant improvement in its second year under Dan Campbell and features young talent at key positions on both sides of the ball, which should lead to higher expectations -- and draft picks that fall closer to the back end of the first round.
Keeping Goff would mean carrying a salary cap number of roughly $30 million for each of the next two years. Detroit can part ways via a post-June 1 cut and save $25 million, but might set itself up for a disaster scenario should Goff's replacement falter.
As Holmes said, it's a lot easier to get worse at the position than better. Goff's $30 million isn't a massive number, but might be a little high for the Lions' liking right now. A renegotiation of his existing deal, which runs through 2024, could solve this and make the decision easier for Detroit.
Holmes could also have the best of both scenarios by spending his first pick on a quarterback and letting him sit behind Goff.
"I think it has a lot of merit and there's a lot of proof behind that," Holmes said. "You can see countless examples of guys that got drafted high. Obviously, Patrick Mahomes comes up right off the bat of them trading up, taking him high and sitting. Then the guy that we just got done playing in Aaron Rodgers, you know. So there's a lot of proof in the pudding in taking that approach, and I don't see anything wrong with it.
"It's a premium position -- they don't grow on trees -- they're really hard to find. Just like I said earlier, it's easy to get worse at that position than to get better at that position because there's so few of them. But I'm not against at all that philosophy of draft one, let him sit and develop, and kind of just kind of see what you got down the road."
It sounds as if all options remain on the table for the Lions. The good news, though, is they aren't desperate for the first time in quite a while.