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The Broncos stole Russell Wilson from the Seahawks

Denver didn’t give up anywhere near what Wilson should have brought Seattle.

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
The man could be an MVP in the Broncos offense
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On the off chance you’re the kind of workaholic who is only now waking up to the bombshell in Broncos Country, George Paton traded for Russell Wilson. Seattle agreed to deal their future Hall of Famer for a package of eight picks and players. For better or worse, the deal will have a significant role in the second year general manager’s legacy in Denver. Personally, I think he’s going to look like a genius.

The players

Paton sent the Seahawks three players as part of the Wilson deal: quarterback Drew Lock, defensive lineman Shelby Harris, and tight end Noah Fant. Each had their moments in orange and blue, but there’s also a distinct possibility none were a part of Paton’s long-term vision for the Broncos regardless of the Wilson trade.

At no point during Paton’s first year did he seem anywhere near as enamored with Lock as John Elway was. The Broncos were reportedly interested in Matthew Stafford, Deshaun Watson, Andy Dalton, and Sam Darnold before Paton traded a sixth round pick to the Carolina Panthers for Teddy Bridgewater on the eve of the 2021 draft. The former Viking unseated the incumbent Lock for a starting job during the preseason and remained a starter until he suffered a season-ending concussion against the Cincinnati Bengals. While various fans and radio hosts stirred up conspiracies about Vic Fangio’s coaching staff having it out for Lock, Paton is the one who ultimately traded for Bridgewater. The GM also left the door open for Bridgewater’s return prior to the Wilson trade.

A fan favorite since his first game in orange and blue, Shelby Harris signed a 3-year, $27 million extension to remain a Bronco last offseason. It was a savvy deal on Paton’s part. Harris counted for $4 million during the 2021 season, which helped the Broncos wiggle beneath the smaller cap ceiling. The 30-year-old proceeded to have his worst season in Denver and was slated to count for almost $13 million against the cap in 2022. The contract was structured so Harris’ 2023 cap hit was in the same ballpark, but the Broncos would only eat $4 million to cut him. Truth be told, long before the Wilson trade Harris looked like a potential cap casualty if he failed to impress the new coaching staff this year.

Out of the three players Denver gave up for Wilson, Fant is probably the biggest loss when the long-term implications are factored in. The 2019 first round pick is an elite athlete at the position and put up respectable numbers with Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien, Kendall Hinton, and Teddy Bridgewater throwing him passes. Given the fact tight ends are notoriously slow to develop throughout NFL history, a fourth year breakout in the Nathaniel Hackett offense seemed plausible.

Admittedly, there’s been questions about Noah Fant’s future with the Broncos since Paton told reporters they hadn’t decided on his fifth year option at the NFL Combine. The news caught me off guard because Fant’s cap number on the option wasn’t earth-shattering and there was a real case to be made that he was misused by Rich Scangarello and Pat Shurmur. At the same time, the similarities between Hackett’s offense and Scangarello’s suggested Albert Okwuegbunam would be a more natural fit in the new scheme with his play strength and ability as a blocker.

The picks

Paton sent the Seahawks five picks as part of the Wilson deal: the 9th, 40th, and 151st pick in the 2022 draft along with first and second round picks in the 2023 draft. It’s a lot of draft capital to be sure, but there’s been 107 quarterbacks drafted since Wilson in 2011 and yet the 33-year-old remains one of the 10 best in football.

This 2022 QB class is one of the weakest in a decade, so there’s a decent chance the Broncos have a superior player to anyone they could have drafted this year. The 2023 crop looks stronger, but prospects such as Bryce Young and CJ Stroud currently look like they’ll go in the first five picks. Unless Paton and Hackett were willing to punt on their first year together, it probably takes a similar trade package to the Wilson deal for a chance to draft a true franchise QB prospect.

The return

In return for the aforementioned players and picks, the Broncos receive a nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback who has never received a single vote for MVP and was the 114th selection in the ‘22 draft. Wilson is a 33-year-old who reportedly hopes to play until he’s 45. Last year is the first time he’s missed NFL games to injury in his career, and it was a freak finger injury.

Looking ahead, there’s certainly some risk involved because Wilson’s playing style casts a bit of doubt on how his game will age. His struggles against two high coverages also raises questions about how he’ll fare against Brandon Staley, Patrick Graham, and Steve Spagnuolo in the Broncos’ contests against the rest of the AFC West.

Final Thoughts

I want to take a quick trip down a hypothetical. Let’s say Paton balked at the Seattle’s asking price: the Broncos would have the 9th and 40th pick in the 2022 Draft and arguably the worst quarterback room in the NFL.

I’ve been brutally honest about how I see the 2022 QB class since last year: it’s terrible. The weakest crop since I started writing for Mile High Report and probably the worst group I’ve looked at since 2013. Paton elected to pass on stronger prospects in 2021, so perhaps he didn’t love most of this year’s crop enough to reach into the top 10, but the sheer number of teams desperate for a passer meant there was no guarantee anyone good would be left by the Broncos’ second pick at 40. If they planned to count on a rookie savior in 2022, they would have had to jump for him if he was even available.

At this point, the draft’s presumptive QB1 Malik Willis looks like a lock for the top eight after a strong Senior Bowl and Combine. The Broncos would have found themselves in a situation where they would need to trade up or settle on Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder, Sam Howell, Carson Strong, or Matt Corral. Realistically, the Broncos had to know they found themselves in a situation where they’d need to secure a veteran passer or settle on Drew Lock as the starting quarterback in 2022. I looked at the alternatives to Aaron Rodgers a few weeks back and it’s a bleak market, so bad that the Washington Commanders just traded multiple Day 2 picks to take on Carson Wentz and his $28,294,119 cap hit for 2022.

Given the rest of the QB market and the competition for his services, I remain blown away by the Russell Wilson trade. The quarterback used his no-trade clause to ensure he landed with the Broncos, and after six long years, Denver finally has a franchise QB again. Regardless of how it works out, they’re relevant again. That’s worth the cost to me.


Did the Broncos win the Russell Wilson trade?

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