ATLANTA – Nearly three years ago, when the Rams traded up for the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL draft, most assumed they knew with 100 percent certainty whom they would select. Why else would they potentially mortgage their future?

But Rams CEO and executive vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff said Monday that general manager Les Snead and then-coach Jeff Fisher hadn’t yet signed off on drafting Jared Goff ahead of fellow quarterback Carson Wentz.

“It was very close,” Demoff said during Super Bowl Opening Night. “I remember when we made the trade two weeks before the draft, everybody said, ‘Oh, they know who the guy is.’ And our point was we’d be fine with either, and that’s not to knock Jared. We had a leader in the clubhouse.”

The leader was one of the worst-kept NFL secrets, however; otherwise the Eagles wouldn’t have followed the Rams and moved up into the No. 2 spot. Executive Howie Roseman, like Demoff, said at the time that the Eagles were fine with either quarterback, but Wentz was their preference.

Nevertheless, Demoff’s disclosure confirms how closely the two prospects had been evaluated, not only by the Rams and Eagles, but by most teams. That comparison continues and will likely never cease, not only because they were chosen first and second overall, but for their stylistic differences and for how they’ve performed in their first three seasons.

Who’s better? Many evaluators prefer Wentz because of his natural abilities, his demeanor, and the level he reached in just his second year. But there is an argument to be made for Goff, particularly after this season, and certainly if the Rams topple the Patriots on Sunday.

Wentz was better when the two faced off in December 2017. But he didn’t finish that game, of course, and wasn’t available a year later when the Eagles and Rams met again. Goff struggled in that rematch, and he’s been mediocre in the postseason, lending credence to the claim that he’s a product of new coach Sean McVay’s system.

But he showed composure in the NFC championship comeback win over the Saints and is gaining playoff experience that Wentz has yet to even sniff. He’s also nearly two years younger.

While comparing quarterbacks is often public sport, there is more to the Wentz-Goff link, and it will be explored this offseason when they’re available for contract extensions. They share an agent, an unheard-of dynamic for the top two quarterbacks in a class, and it could complicate negotiations for both.

“Whichever one of these top-tier, young quarterbacks – Wentz, Goff – does the next contract will become the new highest-paid quarterback in the league,” former Eagles and Browns executive Joe Banner said. “And the only way that isn’t the case is if one of them decides to not maximize their value.”

Whether the Eagles or Rams exercise that option is up for speculation, but it’s on the table, even though there are still reservations about both. The same could be said of the Cowboys' Dak Prescott, who is also eligible for a contract extension. But that thinking applies to a young, exciting crop of quarterbacks that also includes the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, the Texans’ Deshaun Watson, and others.

“They’re going to evolve, change. They’re going to morph into who they are eventually,” former Cowboys quarterback and current CBS analyst Tony Romo said Tuesday. “What happens is for a few years some guys jump out ahead, others stay behind, but, over the course of seven, eight, nine years, the teams that had great teams aren’t going to be as dominant. Others will start to get an influx of talent. You’ll get a coach that, all of sudden, comes who’s talented Sean McVay-style, who gives you a chance to even improve more.”

Romo wouldn’t rate the younger set of quarterbacks who could rival the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning-Ben Roethlisberger-Eli Manning-Drew Brees-Aaron Rodgers group that has won 13 of the last 17 championships. Brady may not be finished. But Banner, when recently asked to choose between Wentz and Goff, didn’t hesitate.

“I think Wentz is better,” Banner said. “If I was starting a team and I had to pick between the two of them – and Goff has come a long way in a couple of years, even last year to this year – I’m picking Wentz.”

Very different players

The Rams’ Jared Goff and the Eagles’ Carson Wentz greet fans at Selection Square in Grant Park after the quarterbacks were selected No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the NFL draft in Chicago.
Matt Marton / AP Photo
The Rams’ Jared Goff and the Eagles’ Carson Wentz greet fans at Selection Square in Grant Park after the quarterbacks were selected No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the NFL draft in Chicago.

Zac Taylor wasn’t even coaching in the NFL when Wentz and Goff were drafted, but he does have a unique vantage point when it comes to both. He’s Goff’s quarterbacks coach and his brother, Press, is Wentz’s.

“They’re very different players. They have very different styles,” Taylor said. “But each of their styles works for the team that they’re with and the guys they’re playing with.”

Wentz is bigger. He’s 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, while Goff is 6-4, 222. Wentz has a stronger arm. He’s more athletic. But Wentz’s advantages seemingly come to hurt him. He’s been more prone to injury and has missed eight games over the last two seasons.

Goff, on the other hand, hasn’t missed a game to injury since being named the starter with six games left in his rookie season.

“His teammates have kept him clean, but I think he’s got an understanding of the timing and the rhythm that we want to operate in the pass game,” McVay said in explaining why Goff has stayed healthy.

Wentz’s mobility gave him an edge in his first two seasons, but he was reluctant to run this season after knee surgery and likely because he was dealing with a stress fracture in his back. The injuries should be considered when assessing his performance in 2018. But he wasn’t as electric.

Goff had a few off weeks this season. He threw four interceptions against the Bears in early December and had a 19.1 passer rating. And he completed less than 60 percent of his throws and tossed only one touchdown against one interception in two playoff games. But McVay and Taylor said he’s never lost his composure.

Consistent – that’s the best word you can use for Jared,” Taylor said. “Whether it’s during the week of prep, during practice, or during a game when things are going well or things aren’t going well. He’s a very clear communicator when things are good or bad.

“He’ll tell you if he saw something – ‘Hey, I was wrong’ – so you’re able to fix it quickly, as opposed to someone who’s defensive about it. They don’t ever want to be wrong.”

Taylor said Wentz and Goff are similar in that they’re both mentally and physically tough, but their backgrounds and personalities are polar. The former is from the Midwest. He hunts and fishes. He’s outwardly Christian. And he’s as Type-A as they come. The latter is from the West Coast. He golfs. He doesn’t publicly talk politics or religion. And he’s OK with being described as “laid-back.”

Per McVay, that calmness allows Goff to handle adversity. He struggled into the third quarter against the Saints, completing only 12 of his first 22 passes with an interception for 114 yards. But he hit on 13 of his last 18 throws for 183 yards and a touchdown as the Rams won in overtime.

“In terms of the magnitude of the game … I don’t feel like any moment’s too big for this guy,” McVay said.

There are obvious similarities between Wentz and Goff because of their unique jobs. They spent a lot of time together during the predraft process and because they are represented by the same agency, Rep 1 Sports. They worked out together and had friendly competitions. There is mutual respect.

“I’m a big fan of his and everything’s he’s accomplished so far,” Goff said Monday. “Continually rooting him on. It’s been fun, though, seeing our career trajectories go up together.”

Proven to be the case

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz celebrates a touchdown throw against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, December 10, 2017, before leaving the game with a season-ending torn ACL .
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz celebrates a touchdown throw against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, December 10, 2017, before leaving the game with a season-ending torn ACL .

Goff said he had no reservations about sharing an agent with Wentz.

“We’re both confident in ourselves and there’s no insecurities,” Goff said. “We’re very happy with our agent, I would imagine. I don’t want to speak for him, but I’d imagine he is.”

Wentz declined to comment about a possible contract extension when he spoke with reporters two weeks ago. Obviously, if he wasn’t comfortable with his representation, he would go elsewhere. But there’s a lot on the line – upward of over $30 million a year and over $90 million guaranteed.

“It’s hard to picture that it would have happened, because usually when you get a top-tier quarterback, you promise him that he’ll be the only quarterback – at least high – that you represent,” Banner said. “But for whatever reason, these guys were both comfortable with using the same agent. … It will affect each other. Whoever goes first is going to make slightly less.”

Banner said that he didn’t see a conflict of interest, but Ryan Tollner, who does negotiations for Wentz and Goff, could use the peculiarity of the situation as leverage.

“If I’m the agent, I can sit there and say, ‘Neither one of these guys is signing unless you give them $33 [million]. And no one’s going first to lower the market, no one’s giving a team-friendly deal. We’re getting full market value,’” said Banner, who handled NFL contracts for over 20 years. “You could do that with either one of them individually; it’s even slightly stronger if you do it with both of them.”

The Eagles and the Rams probably don’t want to create any bad feelings during talks, however, especially when there likely isn’t much wiggle room when it comes to the final numbers. But if Goff wins Sunday, he likely will end up with the larger contract, however minimal.

He’s also more likely to receive an extension than Wentz. The Eagles still need to see how Wentz’s back recovers and they may want to play another year with a quarterback on his rookie deal. Roseman will create salary-cap space this offseason, but he will have fewer funds for other positions once Wentz gets a megadeal.

“It would be tempting to take advantage of one more year of trying to win a Super Bowl where he was still inexpensive,” Banner said. “Sacrificing some long-term benefits for some short-term gain. I think the answer is, I would probably do it sooner than later, just because I know I want to do it, and it only gets more expensive.

“But you can actually make a more compelling argument that you can, in most cases, wait the one year.”

The arguments for and against Wentz and Goff will rage on. They were being held by both the Eagles and Rams in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the draft. The jury is still out on who did better, but teams have done far worse.

“You could tell they were both going to be really talented and really good,” Demoff said. “I think that’s proven to be the case.”