The Russell Wilson experiment in Denver has been historically bad. We’re not even one season in and the move by the Broncos to mortgage their entire future on Wilson is being compared to the Vikings decision to trade for political vampire enthusiast Hershel Walker in 1993, which up to this point was the worst trade in NFL history.
Seattle is now in the position to completely revamp their franchise with a first and second round pick from Denver still to come, after already making their team vastly better with Charles Cross and Boye Mafe, who the team took with the Broncos’ picks from 2022. Seattle is already good, they’re about to get much better — and Denver is a flaming dumpster fire that not even all the alkaline water in the rockies could douse.
The biggest issue with the team as currently constructed is that the Broncos bought a lemon. They were led to believe that Wilson, already an MVP-caliber QB, was being held back by the Seattle offense which didn’t make the quarterback a focal point. Plugging him in with Cortland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and hiring Aaron Rodgers’ offensive coordinator in Nathanial Hackett to be their head coach would all take Wilson to another level — allowing him to reach his final form.
Instead it’s all looking like a fraud, and mass excuses are being made. At first it was Hackett’s decision making, not really Wilson. Then it was on the offensive line not protecting Russ enough. Now it’s because the play calling is keeping Russ in the pocket too much and not having him roll out. Some of this is probably fair, but also when you’ve got to bend this much to accommodate for the QB we can ask the question: Are they really that great? Sure, concessions are made to help passers maximize their ability — but if you have to change everything to make it work are you just fitting a square peg in a round hole? Is that the mark of a franchise QB who can carry a team, or a system QB needing to be carried?
This was the beauty of Peyton Manning’s run in Denver. Nothing needed to drastically change for him. Peyton could come in, take over the offense, and excel in a new system — and when he wasn’t comfortable with a play he had the autonomy to audible out and find an answer. Instead Russ is playing uninspired football, he’s not performing, and his own defense is getting fed up.
Mike Purcell had some words for Russell Wilson has he returned to the Broncos sideline pic.twitter.com/FL6RaFwAT8— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 27, 2022
What happens next? For Denver it’s a deep hole they now need to dig themselves out of. Losing the draft picks suck, but that can be recovered from relatively quickly. It’s a setback for sure, but won’t cripple the team down the road — the contract extension Russ got, that’s a whole other story.
Broncos GM George Paton didn’t even want to test drive the car before throwing his money down. Wilson was given a $245M contract extension with $124M guaranteed, and it’s the biggest liability on Denver’s payroll moving forward.
Trading Wilson before June 1 is out of the question, but most teams want to make deals for QBs before the draft. Denver cannot manage it. It would accelerate Russ’ guaranteed money, becoming a cap hit of $82M in 2023, carrying another $68 into 2024. It’s also unclear who would want Wilson in a trade with his salary as high as it is.
The most likely and cost-effective solution is a post June 1 cut. It would result in a total two year cap hit of $65.4M — but at least it would move the team past this issue. They could then accept losing in 2023, suck into a high draft pick, and find a long-term QB then.
Make no mistake: This sucks. The Broncos were on the cusp of the playoff picture in 2021 and only needed some small improvements to put themselves in the hunt, now we’re talking about them having to become the worst team in the NFL in order to take a step forward. It’s a sad collapse caused by a freakout. The Broncos didn’t hide they really were trying to trade for Aaron Rodgers, with Hackett being a key piece to the puzzle in their minds — but when Rodgers decided to stay in Green Bay and sign an extension it forced the team’s hand to make a panic trade for Wilson.
Since that point they’ve been trying to cover up Wilson being the second choice with bravado, “Let’s ride” and “Let Russ cook,” but now 12 weeks in everything is a mess. The best move now is to just accept the failure, steer into the skid, and cut bait. Otherwise the solution is completely building this team around a 33-year-old quarterback who MIGHT be better with more support, or he’s completely cooked.
Either way, this will be remembered among the worst trades of all time — potentially the worst ever.