Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/Russell_Wilson_with_Lombardi_Trophy.jpg)
It had been a quiet couple weeks in the NFL world, but like the calm before the storm, the quiet was not to last. On Wednesday, March 8, Aaron Rodgers, the 2021 league MVP and constant thorn in the Green Bay Packers’ front office, agreed to an extension with the Pack to the tune of four years, $200 million, with $153 million guaranteed. Somehow, this was the big story for, like, an hour.
Before anyone had time to digest the Rodgers news, we were force-fed a second helping of NFL headlines: the Denver Broncos had agreed to a trade in principle with the Seattle Seahawks for former Super Bowl Champion and nine-time Pro Bowler Russell Wilson.
This was an absolute shock. For months, word around the NFL had been that the Broncos were targeting the aforementioned Rodgers, and all signs seemed to indicate this. Last year, around this time, it was reported that Rodgers and Denver had eyes for each other. Just one month ago, the Broncos hired former Packers’ offensive coordinator and Rodgers’ ally Nathaniel Hackett to replace Vic Fangio as the new head coach. With starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a free-agent, and backup Drew Lock continuing to launch inaccurate passes into the stratosphere, a Rodgers-Hackett reunion seemed like destiny.
Instead, Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that Wilson was the target all along, and that talks between the Broncos and Seahawks have been ongoing for at least two weeks. Whether or not this is really true is up for debate. What is also up for debate is who really won this trade.
When the news first broke, NFL pundits everywhere praised the Broncos for their boldness. The Broncos were following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams playbook: assemble a talent-laden roster and put the finishing touches on with a proven, franchise QB.
It makes sense. Wilson has had a tremendous NFL career and has already won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks back in 2014. The Broncos have some talented players up and down their roster. But were they really just a QB away from competing?
Wilson is not coming off his best year as a pro. It’s also his first season where he missed time due to injury. Now, it was just a finger injury, so no need to totally panic, but his performance dropped dramatically after he returned. From weeks 1 through 5, Wilson was outstanding, completing 72% of his passes to go with 10 touchdowns to just one interception, and he averaged 9.57 yards per attempt. Those are some All-Pro level numbers.
However, Wilson suffered the injury to his finger in week 5, and after missing just three games, he returned to play despite many believing he may have rushed back. They were right to be worried.
In his first game back from injury, versus Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, Wilson and the Seahawks couldn’t even manage to score. Wilson had one of his worst games as a pro, completing just 20 passes out of 40 attempts for 161 yards and two interceptions. Things didn’t get much better the following couple of weeks, either.
Remember how impressive Wilson was in weeks 1-5? Well, weeks 12-18 were a completely different story. Wilson completed 61.5% of his passes to go with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions, averaging 6.97 yards per attempt. That’s more than a 10% drop in competition percentage and a touchdown to interception ratio that dropped from 10:1 to 3:1.
At the same time, Wilson was coming off an injury at this point, and yes, it’s probable that he returned before he was fully healthy. Add in the fact that Wilson played pretty well his last two weeks of the season and you would be justified in expecting that Wilson’s struggles are behind him.
I would argue that those last two games aren’t that impressive in hindsight. In week 17 the Seahawks wiped the floor with the Detroit Lions 51 - 29. But we’re talking about the Lions. They were spunky in spurts, but in general, the Lions were a dreadful team. I don’t care how many touchdowns or yards Wilson threw for in this game, beating the Lions in 2021 was nothing to write home about.
In week 18, the Seahawks faced Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals. On paper, this was a matchup that strongly favored Arizona, as the Cardinals were 11 - 5 heading into this game with the NFC West title on the line. However, as we know now, the Cardinals were in free-fall at this point of the season, continuing head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s annual tradition of stinking in the second half of seasons. Seattle would defeat Arizona 38 - 30 behind Wilson’s three passing touchdowns.
So, outside of two decent games against teams that showed little to no fight, Wilson had a poor second-half to his 2021 season. Now, he’s going to walk into Denver and fix all of their problems?
Let’s not forget about the tremendous haul the Seahawks acquired from the Broncos in this trade. In return for Wilson and a 2022 4th Round pick, the Seahawks received the Broncos 2022 1st, 2nd and 5th Round picks, their 2023 1st and 2nd Round picks, along with quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant, and defensive end Shelby Harris. Lock has been a dud in the NFL, so he hardly counts, but that’s still quite a return.
Fant and Harris, in particular, are interesting fits in what should be a Seattle team that returns to its ground and pound roots. In Wilson’s first couple of seasons with the Seahawks, they were a team that wanted to run the football and lean on their tremendous defense. As time passed, Wilson gradually became more and more of a focal point, while the defense regressed until it no longer resembled the fearsome “Legion of Boom” units of the past. But while Wilson’s prominence continued to rise, their success stagnated.
Seattle won the Super Bowl with Wilson as the starting QB in his second season with the team, and returned to the Super Bowl a year later, losing to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. After that Super Bowl loss, here’s what the end of the next seven Seahawks seasons looked like: 2015 - loss in Divisional Round, 2016 - loss in Divisional Round, 2017 - missed playoffs, 2018 - loss in Wild Card Round, 2019 - loss in Divisional Round, 2020 - loss in Wild Card Round, and 2021 - missed playoffs.
That all adds up to two whole playoff wins in the last seven years and lots and lots of disappointment for the people of the Northwest. For a player many consider to be top 5 at his position, Wilson hasn’t been accomplishing much in the postseason lately.
It’s even more strange to see this lack of success given Seattle’s talented skill position players. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett comprise one of the best one-two punches at wide receiver in the NFL. Running back Chris Carson, when healthy, is one of the league’s better running and receiving backs and his backup Rashaad Penny exploded over the last six games of the season, rushing for 706 yards and six touchdowns. Throw in the fact that the Seahawks went out and hired former Rams’ assistant Shane Waldren to jump-start Wilson’s passing attack, and it seems like Seattle was a QB’s dream.
I guess for Wilson, that dream ended quickly. Now he will suit up for a Broncos team that has arguably less offensive talent than the team he left. In Denver, he’ll get to throw to a solid wide receiver group consisting of former 1st round pick Jerry Jeudy, speedy K.J. Hamler and the 6’4’’ Tim Patrick. Running back Javonte Williams also impressed and new starting tight end Albert Okwuegbunam showed plenty of promise.
None of those players is better than Metcalf or Lockett, though. Noah Fant is a very athletic tight end and might have been the best skill position player the Broncos had. Shelby Harris is no slouch, either, starting in 16 games for the Broncos in 2021 and collecting six sacks to go with a forced fumble. With two first round picks and two second round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, and the same for the next draft, the Seahawks are positioned to add many talented players over the next couple of years. The 2024 Seahawks may be a team to watch.
It’s not a given that Denver’s defense will repeat its top five defensive ranking in 2022, either. Besides losing Harris in the Wilson deal, the Broncos are currently facing the impending free agency of corners Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan, as well as starting safety Kareem Jackson. That’s a significant chunk of a recently-excellent secondary. Add in that Fangio is considered one of the top defensive minds and Denver’s D could be in for some serious regression.
The 2022 Broncos better hope they get the early-career version of Russell Wilson, otherwise there will be loads of questions to answer. The 33-year old Wilson isn’t getting any younger. At this moment, the Broncos have jumped the Cincinnati Bengals in pre-season Super Bowl odds. Expectations have now reached critical mass. And I haven’t even mentioned how stacked the AFC is at the moment.
The Broncos are definitely better positioned to succeed in 2022 than the Seahawks, but Denver’s future looks much more murky. Without those high picks this year and next, it’s going to be hard for Denver’s front office to improve the team in any significant way moving forward, unless they strike gold in free agency. All of a sudden, it’s Super Bowl or bust.
For the Seahawks, they’ve been given a new lease on life after the Wilson trade. They are free to get creative in finding ways to improve the team with their newfound draft capital and cap space. They have excellent skill position players and the flexibility to improve their much-maligned defense, especially with long-time middle linebacker Bobby Wagner being released this week.
Denver’s Super Bowl timer has already started. If they can’t win, or at least appear, in the big game over the next two seasons, the Wilson trade will start to look very ugly. If the Seahawks can find a starting caliber quarterback, they could be in business much sooner than we thought. Denver looks to be the stronger team right now, but Seattle is well-positioned for the future. Better hurry up and win it all, Denver.