Now that all the dust is settled from the Los Angeles Rams score-settling 20-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, Rams fans can now begin to study the implications of facing off with Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI.
This years game is filled with great story lines and one of the most interesting surrounds LA offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth taking the field against the team that originally drafted him and where he toiled for 11 outstanding years. Big Whit has been a cornerstone for the rebuilding of both the Rams and Bengals.
In a video press conference on January 31, Whitworth said, “... both places have my heart and both places have people I believe in.”
As a Cincinnati Bengal
Drafted by the Bengals in 2006 at #55 of the 2nd round, Whitworth entered the starting lineup, as a guard, in his second professional game and never looked back. In 2009, Whit moved into the left tackle spot and the move was impactful and immediate. The Bengals made the playoffs that season and went on to make five straight trips from 2011-15.
Whitworth also accumulated personal accolades as well. He was first team All-Pro in 2015 and second team in 2014. 2012 and 2015 brought Pro Bowl invites.
As a Los Angeles Ram
One of the first moves that the then-new team of General Manager Les Snead and Head Coach Sean McVay made was to solidify the left tackle position by signing the 35 year-old Whitworth to a free agent contract.
Whit responded in 2017 by delivering a first team All-Pro performance, as well as earning a Pro Bowl invite. The productivity of the LA offensive line led the Rams to their first post season appearance in 17 years, Todd Gurley’s 1300 yards rushing, and Jared Goff 3800 yards passing.
Should he stay or should he go?
Fans are familiar with the narrative surrounding the Rams, they are “all in” for this season and that window is closing fast. The team has played their cards well, earned a seat at the final table and are now preparing for the final hand to be dealt.
After the Super Bowl champs are settled, many decisions will have to be made. Andrew Whitworth may face the biggest of them all. If the Rams win, will he ride off into the sunset and let fans make his case for the NFL Hall of Fame? Or if they lose, will Big Whit comeback next year and go through the grind for another shot at a Super Bowl ring?
He’s still got the game
He may have lost a step over time, but Whitworth is still a top left tackle. He had a season-long 85.3 Pro Football Focus grade going into last Sunday’s game vs. the 49ers and tallied 79.3 in that win.
According to PFF, “Andrew Whitworth — now 40 years old — was arguably the best pass-blocking left tackle in the NFL this season. He allowed 16 pressures across 15 games while protecting Matthew Stafford’s blindside...”.
The fire still burns hot
Don’t mess with his woman. Whit’s wife posted a tweet before the San Francisco game imploring Rams fans not to sell their tickets to 49er fans and ex-Niner offensive lineman Joe Staley responded by basically copying her tweet and changing a few words so it read, “Just DO NOT sell them to your own team PLEASE!”. An enraged Whitworth fired the Instagram post below.
I’ve never seen Big Whit go off the way he has in the past three weeks. He doesn’t even care anymore pic.twitter.com/JCWtxMDdrR— Sosa Kremenjas (@QBsMVP) January 31, 2022
“Could you imagine trying to troll another player’s wife...”
“My children even know better than this.”
“Attack the woman tough guy! I’ll address that at a later date!”
6’ 7” and 330 lbs. of pissed off behemoth. He still has the nasty demeanor to be mixing it up with players half his age.
The hole on the offensive line
Joe Noteboom may very well be ready for a starting assignment, but the fissure caused by Whitworth’s absence would be difficult to fill. For five years, the Rams have not had to even consider worrying about the left side, It was a given. No need for double teams, shifting assignments to help out, or running backs chipping on his side.
A win would make for perfect timing
There could no better way for a heralded veteran to exit the game than as a Super Bowl victor. Offensive linemen labor in anonymity during their careers, getting the adulation of leaving at the top of the NFL heap would be deserving moment to drop the mic.
Recent injuries have taken their toll
Whit missed the Tampa Bay game and left Arizona game at half time, he missed seven games last season with a knee injury, and in 2019 he played a lot of the season with an ankle injury that would eventually require surgery after the final game. The Rams medical and training staff have seemingly done miracle’s with surgery and rehab, and Whitworth has bounced back very quickly from injuries, but you cannot ignore the the fact that he has been injured in three consecutive years. The wear-and-tear of over 20 years of football will take its toll on the physiology of even the fittest player.
Money, or rather, the Rams lack of it
Andrew Whitworth is under contract for 2022 and according to overthecap.com, his contract carries a $17, 166, 668 mil cap hit. If the Rams were to cut him before June 1, their cap savings would be $16 mil. That is serious money to a cash strapped cap situation. A more fitting scenario would be, if the Rams can win the Super bowl, negotiate a golden parachute for Whit to retire as a Ram.
Rams fans win either way
Any player who has contributed the value that Andrew Whitworth has given to the Rams deserves to go out on his own terms. If he so decides, his return to LA for next season would be a comforting and welcome sight. But taking the sentimental view, winning the Super Bowl and taking a final bow would be the proverbial “feel good” story. A fitting end for a player who had huge part in turning a perennial losing franchise into the best in the NFL.