How Rams repeat as Super Bowl champs, Kyler Murray’s uncertain future, more

Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants, Stacking the Box, Super Bowl

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Les Snead boldly and aggressively built the Rams into Super Bowl Champions, but what must Los Angeles do to repeat? Plus, Kyler Murray’s uncertain future, the next surprise Super Bowl contender, more

The Rams are Super Bowl champions, keeping the Lombardi Trophy in Southern California, bolstering the Hall of Fame candidacies of nose tackle Aaron Donald and quarterback Matthew Stafford in the process.

Los Angeles’ championship is the big payoff of general manager Les Snead’s big bets, going all-in over the past two seasons for this very opportunity.

Over the past two years, Snead and the Rams traded four first-round picks, a second-round pick, two third-round picks,  and a fourth-round pick for Jalen Ramsey, Matthew Stafford and Von Miller before signing Odell Beckham Jr. just days after this year’s trade deadline, adding superstar talent to a strong core of the roster.

Snead and the Rams’ aggressiveness was rewarded.

Now, the hard work for the bold general manager begins.

No two teams are the same and the Rams have several difficult decisions to make as this offseason begins and Los Angeles’ title defense looms.

The Rams have 19 players scheduled to be free agents next month, including key contributors Von Miller, Odell Beckham Jr., Troy Reader, Will Compton, among others and currently sit roughly $10.05 million over the cap.

Aaron Donald, who forced the game-winning interception with relentless pressure on Burrow, capping a standout two-sack and four-tackle performance, is contemplating retirement, which would obviously leave a significant hole in the middle of the Rams’ defensive line. But, Donald still has two years remaining on a six-year contract that will pay him $135 million.

Snead’s encore to his standout past two years will likely dictate just how long the Rams’ Super Bowl window remains propped open.

So, now that Snead built the Rams into a champion what is Los Angeles’ top priority to be in a position to repeat?

“They need to extend Matthew Stafford to solidify the quarterback position,” a long-time front office executive tells FanSided. “And they need to keep that pass-rush together or build on it. Without those, they don’t compete next year.”

Reports surfaced prior to Super Bowl Sunday that Snead and the Rams hope to engage Stafford in long-term talks shortly. Securing Stafford, as the veteran quarterback market could shift into overdrive and shift the balance of power at quarterback even further in the AFC’s favor, wouldn’t just keep one of the conference’s premier passers in Hollywood, but create flexibility for Snead to keep building.

Stafford has one year remaining on his contract and is set to count $23 million against the cap next season.

After boldly striking to acquire Stafford in a trade as the cherry on top of a championship sundae last offseason, keeping him and keeping him at a lower cap figure could hold the key for the Rams sustaining championship-caliber success.

A Stafford extension would allow the Rams to be better positioned to re-sign Miller and perhaps even convince Odell Beckham Jr. to sign a team-friendly deal to return as a No. 3 option on a Super Bowl-caliber offense, after tearing his ACL minutes after catching the first touchdown pass of Super Bowl LVI.

“Von and Odell are luxuries,” the executive says. “Stafford is a have to have. Everything starts with keeping Stafford, for them.”

Big-spending made Snead a conquering hero and the Rams champions. Smart cap management will give Los Angeles the chance to defend its crown.

The Bengals came out of nowhere … Who’s next?

It’s difficult to remember after Joe Burrow’s dominant season and Ja’Marr Chase’s historic rookie campaign that the Cincinnati Bengals were once the longest of Super Bowl longshots last summer.

In some sportsbooks, the Bengals opened the 2021 NFL season as +12000 to win the Super Bowl.

While Cincinnati came up about 90 seconds shy of holding onto a lead that would have sent orange and black confetti swirling in the Inglewood, Calif. night, the Bengals and 1999 Rams are tied as the teams with the longest odds to win the Super Bowl to play on Super Sunday.

Might another underdog barnstorm onto the scene and into the Super Bowl next season?

“None of the longshots have Joe Burrow,” an NFC head coach tells FanSided, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely. “Just remember that when we start writing Cinderella stories.”

Because there have been nine different franchises that have made the Super Bowl since 2016, there’s a chance that another underdog could emerge in 2022 and repeat the Bengals’ success.

But, who might it be?

FanSided spoke to multiple current NFL coaches, scouts and executives to get their thoughts on the most likely underdog, based on the odds released by WynnBET this week, to play for a championship next season.

Las Vegas Raiders (+6000)

Las Vegas was the most popular selection of the eight teams currently with the longest odds, named by four respondents as their favorite to make a championship run.

“I think the Raiders have the chance to be really good,” an AFC offensive coach says. “They already have a playoff roster in place and a really good coaching staff that should have a smooth transition with each other to be on the same page immediately.”

Vegas fell to the Bengals in the AFC Wild Card round but finished the season 10-7 behind a career-year from quarterback Derek Carr.

“All things stay status quo on the quarterback,” an NFL offensive coordinator says. “I would say the Raiders have the best chance, as long as Carr comes back.”

There’s always a chance that Carr gets moved this offseason as the veteran quarterback market heats up. But, with the talent, Las Vegas has in place and $21 million in cap space, there are reports that talks on a long-term extension could be in the offing for the 30-year-old veteran. If a deal gets done and the Raiders continue to assemble talent around Carr through free agency and the draft, the AFC race may get just a bit tighter.

“The Raiders have the best chance of any of those underdogs because they actually have a quarterback,”

Pittsburgh Steelers (+7500)

The Bengals’ biggest threat to a repeat appearance might be within their division.

“If the Steelers get Aaron Rodgers,” an NFL quarterbacks coach says. “look out. There’s a lot of young talent already in place.”

Pittsburgh snuck into the postseason in Ben Roethlisberger’s swan song and as we reported in this space could be in the mix to land Jimmy Garoppolo from the San Francisco 49ers in a trade this offseason, but adding Rodgers would instantly vault the Steelers into the conversation as one of the AFC’s best.

New York Giants (+10000)

If the mass quarterback exodus from the NFC continues and Aaron Rodgers departs Green Bay for the AFC, might the New York Giants be in a position to capitalize?

After hiring head coach Brian Daboll, who has vowed to build an offense around Jones and pried Mike Kafka away from the Kansas City Chiefs as his offensive coordinator, the Giants might finally have the infrastructure around Jones to give him a chance for real success.

“The Giants are going to win 10 games this year,” an NFL coach says. “They aren’t built to make a run in the playoffs yet, but sometimes it’s just about getting in and in that division, they have a real chance.”

New York has suffered through five consecutive double-digit loss seasons and hasn’t won a playoff game since hoisting the Lombardi following the 2011 campaign. But, in an NFC East with no clear-cut favorite and suddenly a clear direction with general manager Joe Schoen and Daboll at the helm, there might be reason for optimism for a franchise that owns a pair of top-10 picks in this spring’s NFL Draft.

Podcast:

Quotable:

“I play this game for the love of it, my teammates, everyone who has helped me get to this position that believed in me (and) to win championships,. All of this nonsense is not what I’m about, never has been, never will be. Anyone who has ever stepped between those lines with me knows how hard I go.”

– Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray

Last week, Murra scrubbed any images or mentions of the Cardinals from his Instagram feed and the Cardinals quickly followed suit by deleting any photos of Murray — save for an image from his draft night — fueling speculation that the Cardinals and their franchise quarterback might be on the outs.

ESPN’s Chris Mortenson fueled the speculation, with a Super Bowl Sunday report citing sources that called Murray; “self-centered, immature and a finger pointer,” in the aftermath of Arizona’s NFC Wild Card loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Rams.

Multiple league sources with ties to the Cardinals believe the 24-year-old is posturing for a new contract, as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. Some believe this is much ado about nothing.

“Kyler is this winter’s version of Russell Wilson,” a high-profile agent familiar with the quarterback market tells FanSided. “He’s going nowhere.”

It is obvious Murray has seen the likes of Josh Allen (six years, $258 million), Patrick Mahomes (10 years, $503 million) and Dak Prescott (four years, $160 million) all sign mega-deals ahead of the final year of their rookie contracts.

However, Murray has yet to win a playoff game, has made the postseason only once and may need to rein in expectations.

“The worry with Kyler is whether he can hold up over the course of a 17-game season, as we saw this year,” the agent says. “This feels like Arizona’s going to be in a similar spot to the Browns with Baker Mayfield. I’m not so sure they wind up caving and giving him a long-term deal.”

Final thought:

It would be convenient to relegate the Cincinnati Bengals to the fate of so many teams who have lost the Super Bowl over the past decade.

That is to cast them aside as afterthoughts with little chance of returning in the near future.

But, that would be short-sighted and perhaps a bit fool-hearted, when looking at the resources the Bengals have at their disposal to continue building around quarterback Joe Burrow and an explosive collection of offensive skill players.

Since the turn of the century, the team that lost the Super Bowl has just a .563 winning percentage the following season and only 10 teams made the playoffs the year after tasting Super Bowl defeat.

That’s the Mount Everest of a trek general manager Mike Brown and head coach Zac Taylor must climb to get back to the Super Bowl after the Bengals entered the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s Super Bowl clinging to a 20-16 lead.

Had Burrow not been sacked six times in the second half, perhaps it is Who Dey nation celebrating their first championship as you read this. Instead, half of Cincinnati is performing a post mortem of what could have been after touchdown down from LAX.

For Cincinnati, the good news is the Bengals enter the offseason with approximately $55.8 million in cap space to rebuild an offensive line that allowed 55 sacks and fortify a pass-rush that only managed to sack Matthew Stafford once over the final 30 minutes.

Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, knowing Stafford feasts against added pressure, smartly played coverage for most of the game. Stafford tossed two picks, but when the Bengals’ front-four pressure couldn’t get home, it cost Cincinnati dearly.

Make no mistake, the road back to Super Bowl Sunday will not be an easy one for the Bengals.

Cincinnati now wears the targets on their back and plays in a conference that features elite quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert. Just to name a few.

But, given the cap space, Cincinnati figures to be key players in the Terron Armstead, Orlando Brown and Ryan Jensen sweepstakes’ in free agency.

Likewise, the Bengals could package multiple draft picks to trade for an elite tackle such as the Texans’ Leramy Tunsil and perhaps try to lure Von Miller or Akiem Hicks to bolster a pass rush that already features Sam Hubbard, Trey Hendrickson and others.

The road to the Super Bowl through the AFC is going to be a gauntlet for years to come, but the Bengals showed they could navigate it this year despite a generationally bad offensive line and a secondary that could at times be exploited. With the wealth of resources and abundance of talent around Burrow, the Bengals’ future might be just as bright, if not brighter, than any other team in the conference.

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