After a day of spending on the first afternoon of the “legal tampering period,” the Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams, and Pittsburgh Steelers each enjoyed splash signings to kick off their free agency window.
While the AFC champion Bengals opted to—finally—shore up the front five, signing veterans Ted Karras and Alex Cappa to healthy new contracts, the Chargers added arguably the prize of the class in J.C. Jackson, pairing him with stud ceiling defenders Derwin James Jr. and Asante Samuel Jr. For Pittsburgh, while the signing of Mitch Trubisky to be the team’s de facto QB1 caused many to scratch their head, for now, it eliminates the immediate need for a signal-caller in the first round and put to bed any rumors of a future partnership between head coach Mike Tomlin and Liberty’s Malik Willis or Pitt’s Kenny Pickett—the Heisman semifinalist and homegrown talent that called Heinz Field home for his collegiate career.
But as good as those signings look on paper, especially for Zac Taylor’s Bengals and Brandon Staley’s Chargers, teams’ signings in March often provide a glimpse into the organization’s blueprint in April when the draft rolls around. Three teams who will prove to compete for their respective division crowns come this fall, with Monday’s signings in the rearview mirror and aforementioned names added to velcro depth charts, here’s a player each team should remain focused on come the start of Round 1.
BENGALS: ZION JOHNSON, IOL, BOSTON COLLEGE
A front consisting of Jonah Williams, Karras, and Cappa is a nice foundation, but adding a talent like Zion Johnson at left guard could produce one of the league’s more intriguing lines. A do-it-all-talent along the interior who showcased an elite ability at center at the Senior Bowl, there may not be an interior lineman with a higher floor and a higher ceiling in the entire class. Signing Karras and Cappa is a start, but finishing the revamp up front ends with Johnson in Bengals threads.
CHARGERS: TREVOR PENNING, OT, NORTHERN IOWA & JORDAN DAVIS, DT, GEORGIA
A mauling presence, Trevor Penning playing opposite Rashawn Slater is a flat-out embarrassment of riches at tackle. Two youth-infused talents that are as good in pass pro as they are displacing defenders in the run, adding an arm-side protectant for Herbert could see him develop into an MVP candidate before our eyes.
On the flip side of the coin, could you imagine the 340-pound townhouse complex in Jordan Davis within the same front as Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa? With the aforementioned ballhawks lurking in the secondary?
Those are two day-one impact players. The Chargers may have to move up to grab one of the two, but if either player is on the board at the No. 17 overall selection, it shouldn’t take long for general manager Tom Telesco to turn in his card.
STEELERS: TRENT MCDUFFIE, CB, WASHINGTON
One of the smoothest defenders in the class, while the Steelers could opt for a tackle here—or a guard like Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green—adding a CB1 to the Steelers’ aging corners room could be the optimal scenario. While the front seven remains mostly intact, adding a fearless talent like Trent McDuffie within the same secondary as Minkah Fitzpatrick could produce healthy results, to say the least.
A fast riser in the class, McDuffie could come off the board much higher than anyone expects. You can never have enough corners, and while Pittsburgh was above league average in touchdowns and passing yards allowed last fall, McDuffie would make every level of the defense just that much better.