An elite defense, talented offensive playmakers, a Super Bowl miss and a genius play-caller frustrated with an average quarterback. Sound familiar? It should. It's how the 49ers entered last offseason after their near-miss in Super Bowl LIV.
But it's also the life Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams have lived since they scored three points in a Super Bowl LIII loss to the New England Patriots when Bill Belichick flustered Jared Goff from the opening kickoff. The Rams missed the playoffs in 2019, but rebounded in 2020 on the back of the league's top-ranked defense led by Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.
L.A.'s playoff run came to an end in the NFC Divisional Round when Goff, less than three weeks removed from having surgery on his broken right thumb, couldn't keep up with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. In fairness to Goff, that loss was more on the defense's inability to slow down Rodgers than it was on him.
But McVay's frustration with Goff has been simmering for some time now. He clearly was excited to roll out John Wolford in the wild-card round even with Goff at 60-70 percent. But Wolford was injured early on and McVay was forced to go back to Goff.
The Rams entered the offseason knowing their window to win a Super Bowl title was open but could close soon if they didn't make a change under center. They invested two first-round picks and a ton of money to bring Ramsey aboard. They paid Donald a king's ransom and recently extended wide receiver Robert Woods.
So, instead of running it back with Goff, who would need everything around him to be perfect in order to win a Super Bowl, the Rams went all-in Saturday by agreeing to trade two first-round picks and a third-round pick plus Goff to the Detriot Lions for Matthew Stafford.
Stafford, 32, still is playing at a near-elite level and should be revitalized in the most quarterback-friendly system in the NFL.
The Rams' decision to move on from Goff, who they signed to a massive four-year, $134 million contract in 2019, shows they were willing to do what was necessary in order to give themselves the best chance at winning a Super Bowl in the near future. Title windows can shut in an instant and the Rams did the right thing to maximize their opportunity.
Rewind 12 months and the 49ers entered the 2020 offseason with a similar conundrum. Their defense had just given the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes fits and they held the lead in the Super Bowl with 10 minutes to go. But Jimmy Garoppolo's up-and-down Super Bowl performance ended with him missing a wide-open Emmanuel Sanders for what could have been the game-winning touchdown.
Garoppolo, much like Goff, is good when everything around him is working. He's not the type of quarterback who can drag a team to a title if things aren't going right. Kyle Shanahan's frustration with Garoppolo's turnover-prone nature and inability to break through his ceiling has been well-documented.
And so, the 49ers entered the 2020 offseason knowing they had a Super Bowl-caliber roster with a good but not great starting quarterback. Could they win a title with Garoppolo? Sure. They were just 10 minutes from doing so. But if he was unable to take the leap Shanahan expected of him, his shortcomings could torpedo their window and leave them wishing they had done more to bring a Lombardi Trophy back to Santa Clara.
Tom Brady, from all accounts, wanted to leave the New England Patriots and finish his career in San Francisco. Shanahan and general manager John Lynch admitted they did their homework, kicked the tires on Brady but decided to stay with Garoppolo and believe their quarterback could become something more.
Obviously, Garoppolo had little to do with the failings of the 2020 49ers. They were hit with an unprecedented rash of injuries and it's a credit to Shanahan that they were able to go 6-10.
But the Rams' decision to go all-in shows McVay and general manager Les Snead understand the fleeting nature of championship windows. Rarely do teams that lose Super Bowls return and win in the next five years. Only the Patriots (twice) and Denver Broncos have lost a Super Bowl and bounced back to win within five years of their defeat.
Yes, you can criticize the Rams for not having a first-round draft pick between 2017 and 2023. But if McVay and Stafford click and win a Super Bowl, does that really matter? First-round picks are often overvalued and when you're consistently good as the Rams have been under McVay, that pick normally ends up with the same value as a second-round pick.
The Rams have made a number of contract mistakes over the last few years, but they've also accumulated a lot of talent and have the pieces in place to win a title. Goff was holding them back. While McVay had done wonders to maximize his talent, he could see the Rams' only chance to get back to and win a Super Bowl was to make a change.
Stafford heading to Los Angeles makes it all the more likely that Garoppolo returns as the 49ers' starter in 2021. A Deshaun Watson trade possibility looms but is very unlikely. They could try and trade up in the 2021 NFL Draft and grab Zach Wilson, Trey Lance or Justin Fields, but a move like that would cost almost an identical price to what it took for the Rams to get Stafford.
Brady is preparing for his 10th Super Bowl and still playing at an elite level. Stafford, who has thrown for over 4,000 yards eight times in the last 10 years and has 38 game-winning drives in his career, now is paired with McVay and a host of offensive weapons which makes the Rams one of the NFC favorites next season.
The Rams and 49ers have similar makeups and were presented with an identical calculus. They took different paths and it could cost the 49ers their championship window because they lacked the will to do what was necessary.