LA Chargers: Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl offensive line is a good blueprint
The narrative that some LA Chargers fans might focus on in regards to yesterday’s Super Bowl is Tom Brady‘s free agent decision. Brady chose between Tampa Bay and Los Angeles. The rest is history.
Here’s the thing though — Brady would not have won a Super Bowl if he came to the Chargers. I have about five reasons he wouldn’t have right on the offensive line. Sam Tevi was the Bolts’ highest-graded offensive lineman at 52.9 on PFF.
Tristan Wirfs was graded 30 points higher as an outside tackle. Simply put, a 43-year-old Brady needed time to throw and an efficient running game. He wouldn’t have had either in Los Angeles.
Who the Chargers should take at 13 in the draft will be heavily debated between now and April, but let’s take a look at Tampa’s 13th overall pick in the draft last year. After signing Brady, the team got a quality protector for him in the first round with Tristan Wirfs. 2013 was the last time the Chargers used first round capital on a lineman with the selection of D.J. Fluker.
Guys like Rashawn Slater, Christian Darrisaw, and Samuel Cosmi have to be the priority for the Chargers in round one. There is no playoff run to the Super Bowl without a decent offensive line, regardless of whether your quarterback is a 43-year-old Brady or a mobile Lamar Jackson. Alijah Vera-Tucker could be a possibility on the interior line as well.
On the left side of the line, Tampa had Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith in the big game. Both of those guys were second round selections. Other than Fluker, Forrest Lamp is the only OL that was taken in the second round or higher in the last ten years. Day two of the draft’s other recent Chargers’ linemen were all taken in round three, including Dan Feeney, Trey Pipkins, and the late Max Tuerk.
Of course, hitting on your picks is important. If Tom Telesco takes an offensive lineman in round one, there’s no guarantee he’s going to be good. The same can be said for any other player. But drafting a more known commodity in round one is usually much more effective than taking “projects” like Pipkins in round three. Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills, Mekhi Becton, and Austin Jackson were the other tackles selected in 2020’s top 25 selections.
The Bucs were also really good at finding value where others didn’t see it. Aaron Stinnie played some of his best games in the postseason, but he was waived by the Titans as an undrafted free agent in 2019.
Two days after Tennessee no longer wanted him, Tampa decided to pick him up. Looking at available players that were underutilized by other teams has never quite been a strength of the Chargers’ scouting team.
Ryan Jensen became the highest paid center in the NFL after the Buccaneers signed him to a four-year, $42 million dollar contract in 2018. I recently wrote about some of the Chargers’ 2021 interior offensive line free agent options like Corey Linsley and Joe Thuney. Poaching away good talent from other teams is also another great way to build an offensive line.
The argument against that might be the Bryan Bulaga signing considering the injuries he dealt with in 2020. It’s a little ridiculous to stop spending money on free agents when just one of them doesn’t work out.
Also, it’s not like contracts are too hard to get out of for offensive linemen if they don’t work out. The Chargers can move off of the Trai Turner contract easily this year and the Bulaga contract next year, should they feel the need to do that.
While many will talk about Brady’s decision between the Chargers and the Bucs, they should be talking about the very clear offensive line disparity on those teams instead. The Chargers have to use premier draft capital and scout well going forward if they want to see Justin Herbert in the same position as Brady last night. Finding talent in the margins from other teams will be key as well. Don’t be afraid to spend some of that money in the trenches this offseason.