Over three years ago, I wrote an article titled The Broncos Can’t Afford to Play it Safe at Quarterback Anymore in which I laid out my main critique of the post-Manning John Elway-era decision making. The TLDR of that piece is that John Elway and the Denver Broncos needed to start swinging for the fences to fix their quarterback situation.
Now, with Elway hanging up his managerial cleats and George Paton stepping up to the plate, the challenge still remained. Denver had missed out on Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, passed on Justin Fields last year, and were on the verge of heading into another season with yet another cobbled together QB room of Drew Lock, a veteran bridge/maybe a drafted QB that would have made Dr. Frankenstein proud.
However, that all changed when George Paton saw the heater coming straight into the strike zone and launched that ball into the Mile High air, acquiring Super Bowl winning quarterback Russell Wilson (and a 4th round pick) for two 1st round picks, two 2nd round picks, 5th round pick, Drew Lock, Shelby Harris, and Noah Fant.
This was certainly the aggressive move we have all been longing for and, if we’re honest, was really the only viable option for Denver to be competitive this year and maybe next year as well. It certainly doesn’t hurt that we just watched the Los Angeles Rams give up a similar haul for Matthew Stafford last year, go all in on a Super Bowl year, and come out with a ring to show for it.
If the Rams proved anything, it’s that giving up lotto tickets (even high ones) is worth it for a proven commodity at the most important position in .— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) March 8, 2022
And they come much more proven than Wilson: 3/1 career TD/INT ratio, 4th all time career QB rate, started 158 of 160 games.
George Paton drafted (pun absolutely intended) off of the successful Rams strategy of trading lottery tickets/not sure things in their top draft picks for proven players at key positions. The strategy isn’t without controversy, but is almost a no-brainer when you’re using it to address the most important position in all of sports and there’s no other way to reliably acquire that player - and if anyone knows anything about looking under every rock for a QB, it should be Broncos fans for the last six years.
"I think the notion that Seattle won the Russell Wilson trade is interesting.. the Broncos gave up draft capital but they could be busts anyway" ~@gregolsen88#PMSLive pic.twitter.com/JaZVE4EuzF— ️at McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) March 9, 2022
The way I look at the cost Denver gave up to acquire Russell is to project out what could have possibly been done with those picks without a franchise QB. It’s likely that those two 1sts and 2nds would have either gone into continuing to swing for a QB who may or may not pan out, used as a package to move up in a trade for a rookie QB (which is even riskier), or used on talented players in other positions who would never reach their full potential without having a franchise passer in place.
Sense a theme? Denver was stuck without a QB. I love Patrick Surtain, I think Bradley Chubb & Jerry Jeudy are great players, but with Denver’s current QB “strategy”, they and anyone else picked in this draft or the next, regardless of how talented, weren’t going to move the needle for the team the way #3 can (not that #3). So while it may seem expensive, especially for those (like myself) who love to hoard draft picks and obsess over who Denver may select each spring, the question really becomes ‘what’s the cost of not making this move’, which is one I shudder to imagine, as visions of Mitch Trubisky and Drew Lock dance in my head.
Everyone hopes for the Patrick Mahomes/Justin Herbert unicorn to ride in with their cheap five year rookie contract and save the franchise, but that certainly wasn’t happening this year in a draft that saw Washington trade for Carson Wentz as opposed to trying any of these young passers. Plus, the cost, hit rate, and time needed to count on rookie QBs make it a tenuous strategy to lean on if you’re George Paton taking over a team who has the second longest playoff drought in the league. It’s not often a trade is such a short and long term slam dunk, but this immediately vaults Denver into playoff/Super Bowl contention this year, as well as the next five to ten.
If you find yourself pining for those draft picks on draft day, just take a look at this clip from the great cinematic series, Family Guy, and find comfort in the fact that George Paton already secured ‘the boat’. Denver finally filled the six year long hole at the most important position in sports - giving up a couple of picks and players who weren’t likely to stay Broncos for more than a year anyway is just the type of aggressive, swing for the fences move I have been waiting to see.