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Did the Broncos trade for Russell Wilson give them a franchise quarterback?

I spoke with Field Gulls Mookie Alexander to find out.

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals
Russell Wilson chose to be traded to the Broncos.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos sent shockwaves around the NFL when they traded eight picks and players to the Seattle Seahawks to acquire Russell Wilson. The trade completely altered the outlook for each franchise. Denver’s become a trendy pick for the Super Bowl despite playing in an AFC West with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Derek Carr. Meanwhile, the Seahawks look like they’re poised for a true rebuild barring a forthcoming trade for Kirk Cousins or Deshaun Watson,

I’ll admit that as a fan I’m still in a bit of shock because the trade caught me so off guard. I wrote about how I hoped the Broncos could trade for Russell Wilson back in 2018, and again in 2021, but at no point did I let myself believe he could really head to Denver. So now that he’s a Bronco, I wanted to gain some insight into the future Hall of Famer and the Field Gulls Mookie Alexander was more than happy to oblige.

1) How are you feeling about the trade now, did the Seahawks get enough?

Alexander: I’m feeling crummy about it! I didn’t think that Wilson would be a Seahawk for life but I also didn’t think this would be the offseason to trade him. Really what worries me the most is that this signals a rebuild by Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, who are largely responsible for the state of the roster decline in the first place. I don’t think their early track record should grant them the benefit of the doubt for a second successful rebuild. I’m not against the idea of a rebuild but I’m fully against the idea of rebuilding with the same front office. This was my personal worst case scenario. I wanted to see Wilson under a different coach with a mind geared towards offense and offensive design, but I probably should’ve been more specific in my wishes.

As for what they got in return, I’m not thrilled but it’s clearly not chump change when you get multiple 1sts and 2nds in return. I like Shelby Harris a lot and think he’ll be valuable to Seattle’s defensive line. Noah Fant intrigues me if only because the Seahawks have been trying to get a quality pass-catching tight end for an eternity and three seasons of Jimmy Graham is as good as this franchise has ever had. Drew Lock... I hope he rents and doesn’t buy in Seattle. The draft picks are clearly the big thing here but none of it matters if the Seahawks waste all of that draft capital. At the moment they’ve got the draft capital they desire (having thrown away multiple 1sts for Jamal Adams) but no franchise quarterback. Those picks damn well better find a new franchise QB or else this team is about to embark on society’s latest 1990s reboot.

2) What stands out most about Wilson’s strengths? Weaknesses? Did the Broncos get a franchise quarterback?

Alexander: Wilson is one of the most gifted deep passers the game has ever seen, and if he can unlock Jerry Jeudy’s potential (as well as KJ Hamler’s) then watch out. He stretches the field at an elite level and he also makes enormously difficult throws look so routine. His CPOE is routinely among or at the very top of the NFL, which put in simpler terms means he can make a lot of low-probability throws that a lot of other quarterbacks cannot. The injured finger games aside he’s consistently been one of the more accurate quarterbacks of his era, with his career mark at exactly 65% which is terrific when you adjust for the number of difficult throws and deep passes he attempts per game. He also is going to take care of the ball superbly in ways that recent Broncos QBs don’t do. Since 2016, Broncos quarterbacks (yeah I gotta include Kendall Hinton) have thrown 90 regular interceptions. Russell Wilson has thrown 87 regular season interceptions in his entire career. Unless he ages by 30 years this offseason I don’t think being turnover prone will ever seep into his system. The risks Wilson tends to take usually have a higher reward than most and usually pay off in the end.

Another one of Wilson’s standout attributes is his proficiency in play-action (which goes hand in hand with a lot of the deep throws he completes). The idea that you need a great rushing attack for play-action to be effective has pretty much been disproven, so even if Denver doesn’t have a great running game they just need the requisite pass protection to hold up and Wilson should be able to feast off of PAs whether it’s within the pocket or a rollout.

Lastly there’s his ability to improvise outside the pocket in scramble situations. Even though he’s lost a step with his speed and ability to evade rushers in the open field, when the play breaks down he has otherworldly chemistry with his receivers in the scramble drill. Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin were his go-to guys in those situations in Seattle, and I think that Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick could be those guys for him in Denver.

As for the bad, I mentioned his speed isn’t what it once was and that’s gonna be important to note. If you’re expecting the Wilson of yesteryear who’s a true dual threat to keep on read-options then you’re sorely mistaken. The Seahawks only called a handful of those plays over the past few years and for good reason. He still has escapability and when pressed to run he will do that and protect himself accordingly to extend drives, but a lot of the sacks that he used to avoid and turn into positive plays are now just sacks. Wilson’s tendency to get sacked a lot is not down exclusively to bad offensive lines — we haven’t had one worth bragging about since 2005 — as he can get greedy looking for big plays down the field and ignore simpler checkdowns. It’s one of the reasons he’s been a mediocre 3rd down QB his whole career.

Getting the ball out quickly and making anticipatory, in-rhythm throws in straight dropback situations is not something where he’s a total liability but it is a weakness of his. He’s been heavily dependent on pre-snap reads to determine where he’s going to throw. You’ll also notice that the short middle of the field is an area Wilson seldom attacks, which is essentially the tradeoff for his down the field proficiency. It’s that hesitance to throw it to that area that can often contribute to sacks or the structure of the play getting wrecked.

If you’re defining franchise quarterback as someone who will be your unquestioned starter for at least three seasons, I think you do. Now I don’t think Wilson is going to play until he’s 40 or whatever he proclaimed, but even though I believe Wilson isn’t in his physical prime and some aspects of his game (e.g. his declining speed) won’t age his game all that well in the distant future, he still provides too much value as a pure passer to believe this is a 1-2 year sort of arrangement for the Broncos. A completely shot Wilson is one whose arm fails him and there’s nothing to suggest that’s happening any time soon.

3) Do you believe Wilson makes sense as a fit in a Shanahan/LaFleur style offense? What do the Broncos need to do to maximize his talents?

Alexander: If Hackett does run and model his offense closely to what LaFleur was doing in Green Bay then absolutely. Although if Hackett is anything like LaFleur then Wilson will be under center a little more than he was in Seattle. I believe Wilson works better in pistol and shotgun so there may have to be some compromise there, but if Wilson is going to throw predominantly outside the numbers that should open up a lot of opportunities for the receivers to make big plays. I mentioned earlier that Wilson seldom attacks the middle of the field and that’s sometimes to the detriment of the passing offense. On the other hand, you know who else doesn’t like throwing in the middle of the field? Aaron Rodgers. Hackett shouldn’t have any issues adjusting to that.

For Denver to make the most out of 2022 Wilson they have to be one of the higher play-action usage teams in the league, develop an above-average pass-blocking unit, strengthen the running game (which should help Wilson avoid too many obvious passing situations), and when applicable use more up-tempo play calling because that’s been a point of contention between Wilson (plus Seahawks fans) and Carroll for years. Wilson really works well in up-tempo which also largely explains why he’s been excellent in 4th quarter comebacks and two-minute situations.

Congratulations on your new quarterback. I hate it... unless you’re playing in the Super Bowl against the Cowboys or a non-Seahawks NFC West team, in which case I’ll love it.

Poll

Did the Broncos win the Russell Wilson trade?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    Yes
    (4597 votes)
  • 3%
    No
    (185 votes)
  • 15%
    We shall see.
    (872 votes)
5654 votes total Vote Now