Super Bowl LVI was everything one could have imagined.
Under the bright lights of Los Angeles, fans were treated to a nail-biting contest between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams. The Bengals, with a dynamic quarterback and explosive receiving core, faced off against a battle-tested Rams team with superstars on both sides of the field. In what was a 23-20 victory for Los Angeles, the Rams franchise players Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford made clutch plays down the stretch to give Los Angeles its first Super Bowl victory since 1999.
The typical breakdown of how a game went is always nice, but there’s a deeper story here. Both teams taught the rest of the league a valuable lesson on how to construct a Super Bowl-caliber roster. Just two years ago, the Cincinnati Bengals went 2-14 and had the number one pick in the NFL draft. Despite questions about how the Bengals should’ve approached that draft, they selected the franchise quarterback.
The Cincinnati offensive line struggled to protect Joe Burrow the entire season and were greatly exposed in the playoffs, but the fact that they were able to make the Super Bowl and defeat juggernaut teams in the process is a testament to how other struggling teams should approach this offseason: Select a quarterback and figure the rest out later. Burrow was able to overcome being sacked a historic 19 times these playoffs — the most for any quarterback in the last 20 years. With those numbers, teams don’t usually go far, but Burrow is not your average quarterback.
The Bengals have a lot of work to do to improve their pass protection, but the playmakers are there. Other teams around the league like the Saints, Steelers and Commanders, all rumored to be drafting a quarterback this offseason, must be encouraged looking at their rosters, knowing how close they could be to a Super Bowl berth if the right quarterback is selected.
Similarly, the Rams took a different approach at grabbing a franchise quarterback. They traded draft capital to get Stafford, one of the best quarterbacks in football. Stafford, before joining the Rams, spent the first 12 years of his career with the Detroit Lions, who struggled to put a good team around him for the entirety of his tenure there.
The Rams, who made the Super Bowl just three years ago, went all-in on trading for Stafford, trading Jared Goff, two first round picks and a third round pick to get him. They paid a hefty price, and it worked out. Stafford led a game-winning drive in three consecutive postseason games including Super Bowl LVI. Stafford has led 35 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, which is the most of any active QB. It’s safe to say this move paid off for LA — one of the greatest clutch players of this generation led a clutch drive to win the championship.
With other superstar quarterbacks rumored to be on the move this offseason in Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson, the price will be much higher. However, after seeing the Rams win a Super Bowl, other teams will almost certainly spend whatever it takes to get an elite quarterback.
The Rams are no stranger to paying hefty prices for star players. In 2019, they gave up two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick for star cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Earlier this season they also traded a second- and third-round pick for star edge rusher Von Miller. Adding both stars to the defensive end to pair up with Donald, one of the greatest defensive players ever, paid dividends. Donald and Miller made huge plays down the stretch to secure the Super Bowl victory for the Rams. The two combined for four sacks in a game in which the Rams tied the record for most sacks in a Super Bowl with seven.
Odell Beckham Jr. is another impact player the Rams signed this season. Despite seeming to have torn his ACL in the second quarter, Beckham had two receptions for 52 yards and a crucial touchdown. It’s safe to say the Rams wouldn’t have won without his contributions or the contributions of all the players they traded for and signed over the past few years.
The NFL free agency date is a month away. With the deadline fast approaching, teams have a choice to make about their futures. The Rams and Bengals provided two different yet effective blueprints for how to build a Super Bowl-caliber team that other teams are certain to replicate.