It was odd that Jared Goff was deemed healthy enough to participate in the Los Angeles Rams' Wild Card Game against the Seattle Seahawks but did not start. After all, he is one of just a half dozen NFL players ever to make more than $33 million per year, according to Spotrac.
Even at less than 100 percent, he should be considered the guy. Could anyone imagine the Green Bay Packers sitting Aaron Rodgers or the Kansas City Chiefs sidelining Patrick Mahomes under the same circumstances?
The Rams survived that game despite a poor performance from an injured Goff in relief of interim starter John Wolford, who hurt his neck in the first half.
However, just a week later, with Wolford inactive as a result of that injury, Goff again passed for fewer than 175 yards and took four sacks as the Rams' season came to an end in Green Bay. And before the weekend was out, serious doubts were cast on the two-time Pro Bowler's future in L.A.
When Rams head coach Sean McVay was asked Saturday night if Goff is his quarterback, his response was that "he's the quarterback right now."
Given a chance to clarify Sunday, McVay did not provide Goff much reassurance.
"Everything is being evaluated," he said, per ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry. "It's all-encompassing to our entire roster."
That, of course, is a cliche, and a lot could be factoring in here. McVay's intention could be to motivate a player who hasn't been the same since bombing in a Super Bowl LIII loss to the New England Patriots. But it's also possible he's run out of patience with his 26-year-old quarterback.
The 2016 No. 1 overall pick has a sub-58 completion percentage and a sub-80 passer rating in six career playoff games. He posted triple-digit passer ratings in 2017 and 2018 but led the Rams to just three points in that dud Super Bowl appearance and has since posted an 88.1 rating and a 42-to-29 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Among 22 quarterbacks who threw at least 70 passes that traveled 15-plus yards this season, Goff ranked ahead of only Carson Wentz, Joe Burrow, Sam Darnold and Drew Lock with a 71.5 rating on those attempts.
It's safe to assume that if he were still working under a rookie contract, he would at least face stiff competition this spring and summer. If this was his third season instead of his fifth, would the Rams exercise his fifth-year option?
What's wild is that, with that option, he still could have been on a rookie contract right now.
You'd certainly have to imagine the team now regrets jumping the gun to hand the Cal product that four-year, $134 million extension just a few months after the disappointing Super Bowl performance. That and several other bad deals have handcuffed the front office in recent offseasons, and now there's less support for Goff than there was when the team was a more legitimate Super Bowl contender circa 2018.
But there's no taking that back, and the reality is the Rams are likely married to their inconsistent quarterback for at least one more season.
With a $65.5 million dead-cap number for 2021, Goff cannot realistically be released. The Rams would save $12.4 million by trading him before June 1 and $27.8 million by trading him after June 1, but with several blue-chip quarterbacks in the 2021 draft class and veterans such as Jimmy Garoppolo, Dak Prescott, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford and Wentz potentially slated to hit the open market, it's highly unlikely somebody would pay up to take Goff off L.A.'s hands right now.
But that doesn't mean the Rams have to play him in 2021.
Wolford didn't look too shabby in limited action late this season. The former AAF standout brings a different skill set and more mobility to the Rams offense, and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll sung his praises after watching tape of his first NFL start.
"They showed a lot of trust in him," Carroll said, per Stu Jackson of the team's official website. "He threw the ball 38 times in the game [versus the Arizona Cardinals], and he handled it really well. In a variety of ways, he contributed—running and throwing and in and out of pocket; all that stuff. He did a really good job. You can see that they really did believe that he could get the job done. They weren't afraid of the first-time starter form or anything. They really went for it."
So it's possible the Rams will operate with a $34.6 million backup quarterback in 2021, which would almost certainly lead to Goff's release (and between $1.4 million and $10 million in salary-cap savings, depending on the timing of that move) in the 2022 offseason.
Of course, it's also possible Goff will beat out any challengers this offseason or win the job back at some point in 2021. It helps his cause that the Rams are projected by Spotrac to be so low on cap space that there's almost no way they can afford to pursue a veteran, and they also lack a first-round pick in April's draft. The Catch-22, though, is that it will make it harder for Goff or any quarterback to excel with watered-down support throughout the depth chart.
In other words, Goff's bloated salary might keep him employed but also hurt his chances of remaining employed as a starter in Los Angeles or elsewhere beyond the 2021 season. And at this point, it's beginning to look as though he'll have to fight to keep that job in the months to come.
Nobody has the patience these days to wait out quarterbacks mired in multiyear slumps. They're being produced and groomed so well at the high school and college levels that it's not worth a team's time to spend several seasons hoping their guy can evolve, even if they've invested heavily in him.
That investment is a sunk cost. The Rams may be coming to terms with that, which means Goff's time in L.A. could be winding down far more quickly than anyone could have imagined just a few months ago.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Gagnon.