Editor’s note: This has been updated after originally running in December, 2017.
It took place a year ago this week. When the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams was over – after Wentz tore his knee while lunging for the end zone in the third quarter, and stayed in to finish the drive with a touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery on one good leg; after Nick Foles replaced him and helped the Eagles to a 43-35 victory to clinch the NFC East; and after Philly celebrated the feat inside the cramped visiting locker room at the Los Angeles Coliseum – Wentz walked outside with an air cast around his left leg, got onto a cart, and was driven away into the night.
During an intense, emotional nine months of recovery that followed, Wentz was forced to watch the Super Bowl from the sideline. He pushed himself well ahead of schedule in his rehab, only to be denied his goal of starting opening day. He returned Week 3 and has played well overall but not to his 2017 MVP-caliber form.
His comeback season has not gone as anticipated, as the Eagles sit at 6-7. Now, Wentz could miss Sunday’s game and perhaps longer because of a back issue.
Goff and the Rams, meanwhile, are riding high. Under the tutelage of coach Sean McVay, Goff has blossomed into one of the top signal-callers in the game. He has thrown 27 touchdowns on the season, the Rams rank third in scoring (32.7 points per game), and L.A. is tied for the top record in the NFL at 11-2.
Goff and Wentz represent the seventh quarterback pair to be selected first and second overall since 1967 and are the fifth to meet head-to-head.
The first game, officially, went to Wentz, as did the first two seasons since the QBs came into the league in 2016. This year, to this point, has belonged to Goff. It appears what we’re seeing develop is a rivalry that has a chance of going back and forth for years to come.
Truth is, it started well before either of them played a snap in the league. Goff and Wentz are represented by the same agency, Rep 1 Sports, and trained together during the pre-draft process. That unique set-up brought the competitive side out of both athletes, as they went throw-for-throw with the unspoken understanding that the No. 1 overall draft slot was on the line.
Leading up to their first meeting as pros in 2017, we took a look back at the pre-draft process and told that story from the accounts of those who experienced it. The four executives directly involved — for the Rams, Eagles, Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns — declined interviews. But several others shared their memories of the 2016 draft.
Goff and Wentz worked side-by-side in their competition to become the No. 1 pick. They not only became the first 1-2 quarterback combo to share an agent — Ryan Tollner — but they trained together in the lead-up to the draft. Three days a week, they would take the field, alternating snaps and matching throws.
With North Dakota State advancing to the FCS championship game, Wentz arrived in California to begin training a week later than Goff and was itching to catch up.
Ryan Lindley, former NFL quarterback who trained Wentz and Goff: “I want to say [Wentz] took a red-eye right after they played their championship game and came right out to Orange County from Texas and wanted to get going. I was like, ‘Hey, man, you’re coming off wrist surgery not even eight weeks earlier, came off playing a football game the day before. We can take a couple days off.’ But he wanted to get right to work. And I think it irked him a little bit that Jared already had a week up.”
Wentz: “We had just finished winning our fifth national championship there, and I knew I was already a couple weeks behind, kind of that pre-draft prep and everything, so I was ready to get it going. I just got out there as quickly as I could.”
Goff: “I met him. Immediately, right away, you can tell what type of worker he is.”
Wentz: “Jared and I, we threw on the field together a couple times a week. But we had our own private film sessions with our quarterbacks coach and everything and kind of did our own thing. It was just good to be around him.”
Lindley: “I mean, obviously Jared took it seriously and knew it was a big deal and was excited to work with us. But once Carson got there, you knew there was a bar being set, and each one wanted to jump the other each day and raise it even higher. … You put two alphas in a cage, they’re going to put their hair up and be a little bit on edge, go after it a little bit.”
Wentz: “He can throw the ball well. He had a lot of arm talent. And he’s a great dude. We got along great.”
Goff: “Most times, through my life, I’ve thrown, and thrown with quarterbacks, and you kind of know where you are with them, for the most part. I remember throwing with him and it was like, ‘This guy can play.’ Right away. I’m like, ‘OK, he can play.'”
Lindley: “At the time, coming in, Jared was a better deep-ball thrower. He’s done a little bit more of that — obviously they kind of aired it out at Cal — and Carson was, and still is, an amazing thrower on the run. And he could do a lot with his feet. … I felt good with their progress, but you could kind of see if one was a lot better than the other, they’d want to do it again. ‘Let me get another rep. I can do better. I can do better.'”
Goff: “Of course, the competitor in me, every time he throws a good throw, I want to throw a good throw. And I’m sure it was the same with him.”
Tollner: “They pushed each other in terms of preparing and watching film and in the weight room, out on the field throwing. And one thing that I think was evident to both players from Day 1 was, ‘This other guy’s pretty good.'”
Lindley: “The battle for who was the first quarterback taken was out there, for sure. I think at the end of day, each one of them — that’s a feather in your cap to be labeled by an NFL team as the best guy in your draft class. And I think they wanted that.”
Throughout their workouts, it was not uncommon for Goff or Wentz to check in with Lindley to gauge his take on the competition.
Lindley: “It would be different each day. Both have a different way of putting it out there. They’d never completely throw it out there like, ‘Yo, how did I look compared to Carson?’ I don’t think either of them was that self-conscious. But it would be like, ‘Hey, I noticed I needed to improve on this a little bit. How does so-and-so do that?’ You could see it getting to know them. But at the end of the day, they wanted to keep it veiled and know they were kind of checking in subtly.”
Wentz: “I think we both kind of loved the competition and everything, and it made us both better. I thought it prepared us well for the draft.”
Goff: “It definitely pushed both of us. I don’t think there was any, ‘I want to go higher than him.’ I wasn’t feeling anything that way, and I don’t think he was, either. I think, for both of us, it was, ‘We want to end up in a good situation. Regardless of who goes first, who goes second, both of us want to end up in a good situation.'”
Weather — and even the simulation of weather — played a role in how the draft process unfolded. A North Dakota blizzard on March 24 kept 14 teams from attending Wentz’s pro day. Only one head coach, the Cleveland Browns’ Hue Jackson, was in attendance. “Divine intervention,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said, looking up to the heavens. California rain proved to be a key ingredient in the Rams’ courtship of Goff. The skies opened over Berkeley prior to their private workout with the Cal quarterback, setting precisely the scene they needed.
Tollner: “One of the questions related to Goff was, he’s California born and bred, and could he still throw the ball in adverse conditions? If you recall, there were questions in the process about Jared’s hand size, how he grips the football, and how might a rainy day, a late December outdoor contest, affect his ability to throw the ball? It was a cold, kind of windy day in California with rain, and Jared really embraced the opportunity to go out and throw for the Rams’ brass.”
Former Rams coach Jeff Fisher: “We had watched the weather early that day and we felt like we were going to have a window of about an hour and a half or two hours to get it done. But he preferred to just throw in the rain.”
The Rams’ contingent included Fisher, general manager Les Snead, offensive coordinator Rob Boras, quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke and receivers coach Mike Groh. They stayed at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, California, and Goff was coincidentally staying there, too. They ran into each other in the lobby the night before their workout, which took place the weekend after the combine. The Rams were trying to map out a time that worked. Some of those in attendance will tell you Goff basically demanded to throw in the rain, though Goff dismissed that a bit.
Goff: “I was under the impression that it was at a set time and I was going. I don’t know. But it was raining. There was nothing I could do about it.”
Fisher: “We kept the ball as dry as we could. I had a towel and would put the footballs under my jacket between throws. We were trying to do what we could to keep the balls dry. They were still wet, but we felt like they were manageable for him to throw, and he did a really, really good job with everything.”
Tollner: “Jared apparently threw the ball exceptionally well that day.”
Goff: “It went well. I know when I throw good balls. Yeah.”
Wentz was having a different experience with the Browns as a result of a coach’s decision to soak balls with water during the workout to try to create adverse conditions.
Tollner: It was Cleveland that was doing the wet-ball deal. Their coach would walk up and dump a water bottle on the ball as they’re holding it, and then have them take a few reps throwing the ball. … I mean, it was a pretty unrealistic example of a wet ball: You’re holding a dry football and somebody pours a bucket of water on it and tells you to keep the grip and throw it.”
Wentz (after his pro day): “It happens. It was pretty doused. It would’ve had to be a torrential downpour.”
Things went smoother when an Eagles contingent — Pederson, Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, offensive coordinator Frank Reich, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and owner Jeffrey Lurie — visited Wentz in Fargo, North Dakota.
Pederson: “We got off the plane, got right to the stadium, he greeted us right at the door. He was ready to go. He already went through a preworkout before we got there. And then DeFilippo and Frank took him through about 30 minutes of throwing and agility work. Pretty impressive. You sit there and you’re going, ‘All right, this kid might have a little something.'”
Tollner: They went to dinner — their coaches and Howie — at I believe one of the nicest restaurants in Fargo, and they all had just a genuinely enjoyable dinner. The Eagles group came away really, really impressed by him — the way he carried himself and just his level of confidence.”
Roseman (on draft day): “His presence when he walks in the room, when he talks to you not only about football but about life, and then when you watch him interact with people. He walks in the restaurant, just the impressions people have. … I saw the manager and the hostess talking to each other and saying, ‘Carson is just the greatest guy. He’s always so humble, and he’s always so appreciative of all of us here.'”
Wentz: “I just remember I felt really confident with all my workouts and board work — drill work, board work, watching film, kind of everything. I felt really good all the way through that draft process with the Rams, with the Eagles, and all the teams that I met with.”
Pederson: “It was toward the end of March we set up that trip to go work out Goff and Wentz and [Kevin] Hogan at Stanford, and then come back and meet with the kid at Memphis, Paxton Lynch, those four guys. And we spent equal amount of time with all of them. We wanted to make sure we were fair with our evaluations. But at the same time, we could have spent two days with Carson. It was easy with him.”
Goff was in Philadelphia, getting ready for bed on the night of April 13. His visit with the Eagles was scheduled for the following morning. But then he got a phone call. The Rams had acquired the No. 1 pick from the Tennessee Titans, giving up six picks — two of them in the first round — to move up a whopping 14 spots. Kobe Bryant was playing in his final NBA game that night, and the Rams didn’t want to steal his spotlight by announcing their trade. The rest of the world would find out the next day.
Goff: “I woke up the next morning, and, of course, it’s three hours ahead. So I’m in my meetings with Philly. And again, I have so much respect for Philly. I love their coaches and love Lurie, love everything they have going on there, love Howie, and I think they’re a really, really good franchise. I’m sitting in an interview — or a meeting, I believe — with one of their psychologists. My phone just starts going buzz, buzz, buzz. It just starts buzzing off the hook. And that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, shoot, they must’ve just traded up. It must’ve just happened.’ Sure enough, I look at my phone, and it’s happening. I look at the TV, and it’s happening.”
Fisher: “We kind of had a sense of the quarterback class at that time and felt like, to have an opportunity to get a franchise quarterback in that group, we had to go there. … We would have gone through the same exercise had the team stayed in St. Louis. I can say that with absolute certainty. This was a need that the team had to address no matter where we were.”
Tollner: “The Titans have the first pick and we represented their quarterback in Marcus Mariota, so there were certainly discussions with Jon Robinson, the Titans GM, about the possibility of moving out of the first pick, and there were discussions with Les Snead, the Rams GM, about trying to get all the way up to No. 1 to ensure he would get the player he wanted. And how can you execute that trade from 15 to 1? Very, very difficult.
Snead (at the April 14 news conference): “We were at the combine. … You get to draft for suites, and the Titans were our neighbors [in 2016]. It was easy for us to sneak out the back there and chat about the pick. It’s a long process. Through the process, you get a feel [the Titans] were willing. But they definitely had a value for their pick. You have that luxury when you have a QB.”
Tollner: “All of this was going on for a couple months prior to the draft. And the Rams became fixated on the idea; Les Snead became fixated on the idea of trading all the way up to No. 1.”
Robinson (to Titans.com on April 14): “We’ve had some discussions back-and-forth going back to the combine. Some initial, exploratory discussions, if you will. Things kind of heated up over the last several weeks, and then we were finally able to come to a decision.”
Fisher: “Our board was good with respect to the other quarterbacks, but we felt, to truly have the opportunity to get one of the top two — Jared or Carson — we were going to have to move up. … We really felt at that time, based on all the information we had gathered on both players, we couldn’t go wrong if we could get to either one or two.”
Robinson (to Titans.com on April 14): “It was a chance for us to really bolster the depth of our football team, having six shots at the top 76 players in this draft, not to mention five next year with the extra one and the extra three.”
Goff: “I knew it was me or Carson. And we both did. We didn’t find out for sure until sometime later, but yeah, that’s the first thing you think of is, ‘Oh, man, is it me?'”
The Eagles had already traded up from No. 13 to No. 8 in March, but they, too, were eyeing a quarterback. The Browns also wanted a quarterback, but seemingly didn’t become infatuated with Goff or Wentz. They went back-and-forth with the Eagles for weeks and ultimately accepted five picks — two in the first round — for the No. 2 overall selection on April 21, seven days after the Rams’ trade.
Tollner: “I was in constant communication with Howie [Roseman], and when the Rams executed the trade up to No. 1, then the feeling was, ‘OK, who do you think they’re going to take?’ And I felt it would be Goff, and that’s when they started to make the move.”
Roseman (on April 21): “It’s rare for us to be in the top 10 in the draft, but that was our No. 1 goal in the offseason.”
Goff: “I found out about the Eagles’ trade on my Rams visit. I was here a week later, and sure enough, on the TV, ‘Eagles move up to No. 2.'”
Sashi Brown, former Browns vice president of football operations (at the 2017 NFL combine): “We do like the trade. … Understanding where we were as a roster, understanding that we were passing on the opportunity to take a player, whether it’s [defensive end Joey] Bosa or Wentz. … This is a trade when you probably look back at it that will work out for both teams.”
Goff: “At the end of the day, when they were both one and two, I was like, ‘Man, those are probably my two favorites.’ I liked L.A. the best, but the Eagles were right there. And I would’ve been very happy with either one of them.”
Wentz: “I think it ended up working out for both of us.”
The Rams traveled to play the Oakland Raiders to open the 2015 preseason on Aug. 14. For Snead, who started paying attention to Goff when he became the first true freshman to start at Cal, it was a chance to watch him practice. The Rams’ interest in Goff — and desire for a franchise quarterback — grew stronger as the 2015 season played out, ultimately motivating them to move up to the No. 1 overall pick.
Tollner: “The Rams identified early in the process that they were going to take a quarterback, and they were willing to do whatever it took to get one. I think that they had their sights set on Jared very early.”
Goff: “I loved the coaches, and I loved the whole [Rams] organization. I liked [chief operating officer Kevin] Demoff, Les, the previous staff. I did like them a lot. I had a good rapport with all of them. I loved Fisher, and Les was awesome. It was just a really good feeling, a really good vibe.”
Pederson: “It kind of went back-and-forth. It was like, ‘OK, this week it’s Carson, next week it’s Goff.’ As you study and go back and look at all their tape and look at different things, probably the one thing is that you couldn’t see bad-weather games with Carson because he was always in a dome. I think he played in one bad-weather game and he played in 40 degrees and raining. That was like the worst he’s been in during his college career, where Goff was at least outside — California — there’s always going to be rain, different things, so you can compare all kinds of stuff. But at the end of the day, we just felt real comfortable that if we’d get our chance, that [Wentz] would be our guy.”
The Eagles worked out Goff, Wentz, Lynch and Hogan in late March, weeks before they would trade from No. 8 to No. 2. They returned to Philadelphia, and that’s when they pretty much knew Wentz was the player they wanted.
Pederson: “We started writing up our reports and talking some more and doing some more of the analytical stuff with all of the quarterbacks. Then we had the 30 visits, and both Goff and Dak Prescott was here, Carson was here. And we just came away at that point thinking, ‘Man, Carson.'”
Wentz: “I just felt a great connection with this coaching staff, with the city. Just kind of the blue-collar work ethic — everything about it. I just kind of fell in love with it.”
Tollner: “The Eagles made the trade up to two expecting to get Carson, and I think that my gut feel on that was sort of a strong factor for them, and it turned out to be right.”
Roseman (on draft day): “He was our top player on our board.”
Goff pretty much knew he was going No. 1 about a week before the draft. Snead and Fisher had decided well before that. But they mostly kept it to themselves, partly because they still wanted to hear honest, fair, unbiased opinions from their scouts and coaches. Stan Kroenke, the Rams owner, knew about the decision before he sat down with Goff at Mastro’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills in the days leading up to the draft.
Goff: “We had the same agent. He’s got information from the Eagles, he’s got information from the Rams. We both find out. It was never for sure until my name was called. So I’m still sitting at the table, waiting for my phone to ring. You never really know for sure.”
Wentz: “I think we both had a pretty good idea of where we would end up, but we still were just waiting for that call — when the Rams were on the clock, right then and there.”
Tollner: “Both of them had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with those teams at the combine, at a private workout, at a team visit. And they both came away saying, ‘This would be a great place to play. I think I can be successful here.’ I think they liked the people, the location. … There were certainly other teams that [they] thought presented great opportunities, as well, but those were two that both players came away saying, ‘This would be pretty cool to get drafted here.'”
Fisher: “[Goff] was very, very excited. We had a conversation earlier in the day. You’re just checking the phones, you’re making sure you can get in touch with him. He’s got the family in New York, and we told him he would be hearing from us very shortly, once the draft got started. … It wasn’t that phone call where he’s on national TV. It was the phone call to let him know shortly ahead of time. I know he had a smile on his face, and he said, ‘I won’t let you guys down. I’m very excited, and thanks for the opportunity.'”
Wentz: “It was a crazy whirlwind. You’re playing every scenario in your head. Trying not to, but you naturally are. But at the end of the day, wouldn’t trade it for the world where I ended up.”
ESPN Denver Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold contributed to this report.