Chargers can learn from the Rams and Bengals
February 17, 2022
The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in Super Bowl LVI, 23-20 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. It was the second Super Bowl Championship for the Rams organization, the other coming from the 1999 St. Louis Rams. It was also the second Super Bowl Championship for the City of Los Angeles. The 1983 Los Angeles Raiders won Super Bowl XVIII, beating the Washington Redskins.
The Bengals earned their place in the Super Bowl by upsetting the Kansas City Chiefs three week ago on the road in overtime, 27-24, to win the AFC Championship, and the Rams earned their way in by defeating the San Francisco 49ers, 20-17 at SoFi Stadium, clinching the NFC Championship.
The Rams have made the playoffs four times in the past five seasons under head coach Sean McVay and were making their second Super Bowl appearance in four seasons. They have built a solid foundation over the years and added to that foundation with aggressive trades for players like cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Von Miller, quarterback Mathew Stafford and running back Sony Michel.
The Rams have been more than willing to give up future draft picks for veteran players to "win-now." They also added a key free agent in wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., after he was released and cleared waivers in the middle of the season by the Cleveland Browns. The strategy of adding accomplished players to the roster regardless of the cost in terms of draft capital has worked well for the Rams.
The Bengals went 10-7 in the 2021 regular season, with losses to the 4-13 New York Jets on the road, the 6-11 Bears on the road, a 41-16 pounding at home by the Cleveland Browns and suffered a 41-22 blowout loss to the Los Angeles Chargers at home. Yet somehow the Bengals made the Super Bowl. Which must be very frustrating to Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley and Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco. The Chargers missed the playoffs with a record of 9-8 for the season.
The Bengals were 4-11-1 in 2020 and struggled on defense. The Bengals were last in the NFL in sacks in 2020 with 17. The rushing defense was ranked 29th in the NFL allowing 148.0 yards per game. The defense allowed 5.1 yards per carry, which ranked 31st in the NFL out of 32 teams.
The Bengals turned it around in 2021 by using free agency to improve on defense. The Bengals acquired edge rusher Trey Hendrickson via free agency, giving him a four-year, $60 million deal. Hendrickson led the Bengals with 14 sacks and made the Pro Bowl. The Bengals added a pair of starting cornerbacks through free agency, Eli Apple and Chidobe Awuzie, and added through free agency starting safety Vonn Bell.
The Bengals acquired defensive tackle B.J. Hill from the New York Giants through a trade. Hill had 5.5 sacks and fifty tackles on the season and his interception of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the second half was a huge defensive play in the comeback win over the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game.
The Bengals used free agency in 2021 to fill immediate needs on defense. They drafted defensive lineman in the second, third, fourth and seventh rounds. The rookies are the longer-term investments that will be developed over time, with the hope that they develop into good NFL players. The Chargers can learn from both the Rams and Bengals but should use the Bengals approach to improve their roster.
According to Spotrac.com, the Chargers currently have $57.5 million available in salary cap space, which puts them in very good shape to re-sign their own free agents as well as signing other players around the league. The league average in salary cap space per team is currently $14 million. Fifteen of the NFL teams have less than $10 million available in salary cap space.
The Chargers have all seven draft picks for all seven rounds available to them in the three-day 2022 NFL Draft, which begins on Thursday, April 28th in Las Vegas. They are also expected to get an additional four compensatory draft picks for players lost in free agency in 2021. The picks are expected to come in the 6th and 7th rounds of the 2022 NFL draft. That would give the Chargers a total of 11 draft picks.
Because they have plenty of salary cap space available, the Chargers should be able to re-sign their unrestricted free agents, at least the players they want to keep. Wide receiver Mike Williams, linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, defensive end Justin Jones, and linebacker Kyzir White are all unrestricted free agents in 2022. All four are starters and all four were drafted by the Chargers. Telesco likes to emphasize that the Chargers want to "draft, develop and re-sign their own players."
All four players had good seasons and should be brought back. The Chargers will also have decisions to make on players like right guard Oday Aboushi and linebacker Kyler Fackrell, both of whom were veteran free agent acquisitions and played well when they were healthy.
Like the Bengals in 2021, the 2022 Chargers need help on defense. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks of the Chicago Bears would be a good free agent pickup in the middle of the defense. Staley was a linebacker coach with the Bears in 2017 & 2018, and Hicks made the Pro Bowl in 2018. In the 2017 and 2018 seasons combined, Hicks had 16 sacks and 27 tackles for loss.
Arizona Cardinal edge rusher Chandler Jones would be a nice addition to the Chargers defense. The four-time Pro Bowler would take the pressure off linebacker Joey Bosa and would make the Chargers tough to pass block. In the secondary, Pro Football Focus had the Charger rated as the 27th best secondary in the NFL in 2021. It was obvious that the cornerbacks did not play well this past season for the Chargers, and they will need to find help at the cornerback position in free agency and in the draft.
On the offensive side, a replacement for tight end Jared Cook should be a priority. Cook had six dropped passes during the season and his overall production was a disappointment. Tight end Zach Ertz of the Cardinals would be a good addition that might not break the bank. The Chargers also need a starting right tackle and could look to a free agent like Eric Fisher to handle the right tackle position. Fisher is a former No.1 pick overall of the Chiefs who has played both left and right tackle.
The Chargers are well-positioned to improve the roster and get this team to the playoffs. They have started to build their own foundation with players like quarterback Justin Herbert, left tackle Rashawn Slater, safety Derwin James, and Bosa. What the Rams accomplished by aggressively trading high picks for proven players is one route the Chargers could take.
But the Chargers are closer to last year's Bengals: A team with plenty of draft picks, a lot of available cash for free agents and a young franchise quarterback. The Chargers were the best team in the NFL in 2021 to not make the playoffs and they do not want that to happen again in 2022. With the Rams winning the Super Bowl, the Chargers are officially the No. 2 NFL team in the City of Los Angeles and that is never a good place to be in Southern California.