The NFL has caught a fever, and it’s getting superstar quarterbacks to win immediately. Tom Brady in Tampa Bay, Matthew Stafford in Los Angeles — now the Denver Broncos are trying their hand, with Russell Wilson.
Wilson was traded to Denver on Tuesday afternoon, hours removed from the new Aaron Rodgers was re-signing with the Packers. It cut off a potential avenue for the Broncos, who seemed to be all-in on the idea of making a play for the NFL MVP. Now they’ve landed a hell of a quarterback, giving up two first round picks, two second round picks, as well as QB Drew Lock, TE Noah Fant and defensive end Shelby Harris, pass rusher who finished with six sacks a year ago, and noted cornerstone of the locker room.
The lingering question remains: Is Russell Wilson enough to take Denver to the Super Bowl?
If you talk to Broncos fans they were hell bent on the idea their team was an elite passer away from a championship. And their Super Bowl odds at DraftKings Sportsbook moved with the trade. Following Super Bowl 56, the Broncos were +1800 to win Super Bowl 57. After the trade, they are +1200.
I’m not so convinced. Don’t get me wrong, Wilson unquestionably makes Denver better, and could easily push them into the playoffs — but when it comes to actually winning it all, that’s far more difficult to project. It makes trading for the 33-year-old quarterback a much more risky prospect than it would initially seem, and to my mind, the Broncos are further away from a championship than either the Buccaneers or Rams were when they made their “all-in” plays.
3 reasons the Broncos can make the Super Bowl with Russell Wilson
- Extremely strong receiving corps in Cortland Sutton, Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy
- Top 10 pass defense to limit opposing quarterbacks
- Excellent running game with Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon (assuming he’s re-signed)
The biggest factors here for Wilson are that he inherits one of the best set of receivers in the NFL that doesn’t get talked about enough. Sutton and Patrick will easily blossom into 1,000 yard plus guys, while Jeudy will get more opportunities as well.
It’s more than likely that Gordon will be gone due to cap reasons (which we’re going to touch on soon), but Javonte Williams had a stunning rookie campaign for the Broncos where he amassed over 1,200 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns. This is an extremely talented group of skill position players for Wilson to move to, and he can get the most out of them.
The modern NFL is all about passing, and stopping the pass. Denver has built one of the better secondaries in the league, locking down that side of the ball. This, paired with Wilson gives the Broncos a chance to really make noise — and yes, that could take them all the way.
Three reasons the Broncos can’t make the Super Bowl with Russell Wilson
- Poor offensive line
- Sub-par pass rush
- New, unproven coaching staff
Unfortunately for Wilson, who has often been a victim of bad protection, he’s not going to get much more help in Denver. The Broncos offensive line has struggled for several years, and only improved in small increments in 2021.
The Seahawks and Broncos tied for 16th in the NFL last season in pass block win rate at 61 percent, with Denver only being moderately better in adjusted sack rate (21st vs. 25th). Joe Burrow showed that it’s still possible to make it to the Super Bowl with a bad offensive line, but this is not a model every team needs to emulate. That said, we do know that Wilson succeeds under pressure, so he will handle having a mediocre line again — but he couldn’t win with that in Seattle, so imagining he can in Denver is a bit of a stretch.
In addition, Denver’s pass rush is just bad. They were last in the NFL in pass rush win rate, and 27th in stopping the run. The Broncos are great at playing the ball once it’s in the air, but stopping a play before it reaches that point is iffy.
We also need to consider coaches. Tom Brady joined Bruce Arians, an established commodity with Super Bowl experience. Matthew Stafford went to the Rams who are coached by Sean McVay, another guy with experience at making it to the Super Bowl. Nathanial Hackett is an unproven, untested first-year head coach. Even if we assume Hackett is a top-tier coach, there is going to be time for everything to mesh together.
So, what do we make of all this?
Honestly, it feels kind of like a lateral move. I know Broncos fans won’t want to hear it, but that’s my perception of the situation. Both the Seahawks and Broncos were 7-10 teams last year, and sure, Seattle was 7-10 with Wilson, while the Broncos were without — but let’s just be honest: Wilson and Teddy Bridgewater were really, really similar last season.
The haul the Broncos are sending to Seattle is a lot for seven more touchdowns and one less interception. The question is whether an extra 49 points really puts more wins in the column for Denver?
In raw numbers, assuming Wilson plays similarly to 2021, the Broncos would life their average scoring from 19.7 to 22.5. Defensively they allowed 18.9 a game, so this small margin could be very significant — but I’m still having a very hard time being as bullish on the 2022 Broncos as the 2020 Buccaneers or 2021 Rams.
Everything could absolutely align and Denver could become a powerhouse. I’d love to be wrong, because shaking up the playoff picture is a great thing to see. As it stands I think trade makes Denver a better team immediately, but not a favorite — and they really mortgaged their future to make it happen.