On the heels of one star quarterback announcing he’s returning to his team, another is on the move. After the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson went through a teased breakup last offseason, the two sides officially parted ways with a trade that sent the quarterback to the Denver Broncos.
The full trade package includes Wilson and a fourth-round pick in exchange for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round pick, Drew Lock, Shelby Harris, and Noah Fant.
While speaking to the media during the combine, both Seattle general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll downplayed the idea of trading Wilson this offseason, which made it seem like the two sides would come to another understanding on a return. But less than a week later, Wilson is on the move to Denver and a loaded AFC West.
The Broncos have been desperate to get in the quarterback market. After being the rumored favorite to land Aaron Rodgers last offseason, Denver settled on Teddy Bridgewater and passed on a quarterback in the draft only to need a quarterback again this offseason.
There’s a lot to break down here, so let’s get into it.
What exactly is Russell Wilson now?
So much of this trade hinges on the answer to this question. Of course, the answer is we don’t know! Glad we settled that, article over.
Wilson’s had an interesting career arc. He started as a highly efficient quarterback in a low-volume passing game and then turned into an even more highly efficient quarterback in an unfortunately still low-volume passing game.
Per TruMedia, Wilson has gone from 0.19 EPA per dropback to 0.11 to 0.09 to 0.00 over the past four seasons. The significant decline in 2021 can somewhat be attributed to the hand injury suffered in Week 5. Wilson started the year off scorching hot but his EPA per dropback dropped each week from Weeks 1-4.
Upon Wilson’s return, he had four straight games of negative EPA, but ended the season on a high note and was fifth in EPA per dropback among quarterbacks from Weeks 14-18 with a 10.8-yard average depth of target, which was the second-highest in the league during that span.
Wilson’s biggest strength has been his deep ball — still the prettiest in the league — and those passes came back at the end of the year as a league-leading 23.4% of his pass attempt traveled 20 or more air yards over those final five weeks.
While we don’t know exactly what the offense new Broncos head coach Nathanial Hackett will run, he just came from a Packers offense that was not afraid to open up some shots down the field. What made Denver a frequently rumored destination for top-tier quarterbacks was a receiving corps that has the ability to open up a lot of things.
A trio of Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Jerry Jeudy can certainly play into Wilson’s strengths on the outside. A big question with Wilson surrounds his willingness/ability to throw to the short and intermediate middle of the field — which could mainly impact tight end Albert Okwuewgbunam —but the Broncos might have enough talent on the outside that whether it’s been Wilson or the Seattle offense as the reason those passes don’t happen, it might not matter.
Wilson will enter 2022 in his age-34 season with two years remaining on his current deal. Per Over The Cap, Wilson has a $19 million salary in 2022 and a $22 million salary in 2023 with a $5 million roster bonus each year. That’s well below the market rate for a quarterback of Wilson’s ability and it would not be a shock to see an extension that throws in a little more guaranteed money and some added cap flexibility for the Broncos.
Does This Make the Broncos contenders?
Denver is inarguably a better team at this moment than in 2021, but the Broncos still need to add in order to stack up with the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers in their division. The Broncos have the ability to make some of those moves. Before the trade, Denver had around $39 million in cap space. With Wilson’s contract added and those traded off the books, the Broncos should be looking at somewhere around $23.5 million in cap space with no other moves, which would still be just outside the top-10 in the league this offseason.
As we saw with the Rams and Stafford, adding that tier of quarterback makes the roster more inviting to other players. Von Miller has already hinted he’d like to come back to Denver and that is not likely to be the last veteran intrigued by the addition of Wilson.
Attracting some good defenders might be another key to Denver’s future success. The Broncos were 12th in EPA per play on defense last season under the guidance of Vic Fangio. First-time defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero will take over after spending the past two seasons with the Rams. Denver has a few holes that need to be filled at linebacker and in the secondary.
However the “we have a good quarterback” card isn’t limited to the Broncos in their division. The Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes and the Chargers have Justin Herbert on a rookie contract plus the most cap space in the league.
Getting Wilson helps the Broncos build but it’s not the final piece.
BetMGM now has the Broncos as the second most likely team to win the AFC West (+275), behind the Chiefs (-120), but ahead of the Chargers (+400). Denver has the third-highest odds to win the AFC (+650) behind the Buffalo Bills and Chiefs (both +400).
There’s a chance the Broncos could be the best team in the division but there’s also a good chance they finish third even while playing well. It’s a tough gamble, though the extra wild card spot could help. Just getting to the playoffs has proven to be enough in this expanded playoff era and Wilson absolutely gets the Broncos closer to that.
What does this mean for the Seahawks?
Seattle finds itself in a peculiar spot after this trade. With Geno Smith as a free agent, the current quarterbacks on the Seahawks roster are Drew Lock and Jacob Eason. The Seahawks now sit with the No. 9 overall pick in the draft, which could be used on a quarterback. But even in what’s viewed as a lackluster quarterback class, there is no guarantee the Seahawks will get the quarterback they want sitting at No. 9.
If the Seahawks aren’t going to be aggressive in the draft for a quarterback, the options on the roster inspire no confidence and the alternative external options aren’t much better. Would Seattle try to stay afloat and be at least mediocre by bringing in a veteran bridge quarterback? Even with this trade, the Seahawks don’t really have the extra draft capital (thanks, Jamal Adams) to be making a move for another quarterback — say Jimmy Garoppolo or worse, Carson Wentz.
Does a Teddy Bridgewater or Marcus Mariota or the apparently hotly sought-after Mitchell Trubisky really add anything to Seattle’s chances of winning in 2022? Probably not.
But at the same time, it’s hard to see a 70-year-old head coaching willingly jumping into a full rebuild.
The loss of Wilson also reverberates around the rest of the offense. While many observers always wanted the Seahawks to throw the ball more, the passing offense was built around the strengths of Wilson and it’s hard to imagine two receivers who fit that better than Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
There have already been trade rumors around Lockett, but after he just signed an extension last April, it would be difficult for the Seahawks to move the 30-year-old receiver without reworking the deal. On a pre-June 1 trade, the Seahawks would lose $21.15 million in cap space, taking on $31.2 million in dead money against a $10.05 million cap hit. Trading Lockett after June 1 would open up $3 million in cap space but with that date after the draft, any pick compensation would not come until 2023.
Metcalf is a more interesting piece. Ideally, any team with Metcalf on the roster would want to keep it that way but if the Seahawks are actually looking to completely rebuild, they could get another haul for the 25-year-old star receiver on the final year of his rookie deal.
Seattle also has a ton of question marks on the roster with key pending free agents including Duane Brown, D.J. Reed, and Quandre Diggs, among others. There is a lot of work to be done in order to fill this roster out in 2022. Grabbing Shelby Harris and a young offensive weapon in Noah Fant helps, but those weren’t exactly needed positions for the Seahawks.
Seattle could go back to their old ways and turn these draft picks into more picks by trading back, but that still leaves this team without a ton of top-end talent regardless of whether the Seahawks are trying to rebuild or compete.
What is clear is that the relationship between Wilson and Seattle had soured but that doesn’t make the trade any less shocking. The AFC got more interesting while more questions surround the contenders of the NFC. While it looked like the rumored top-tier quarterback movement wouldn’t become reality, we got one of the biggest moves we could have imagined and the full fallout of this deal has yet to be determined.