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Will Russell Wilson have a bounce-back year?

Year two of Russ in Denver can’t be worse than year one... can it?

Denver Broncos v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

It’s year two of the Geno Smith era for the Seattle Seahawks, which of course means it’s year two of Russell Wilson with the Denver Broncos. There are no more first-round picks to be gained from this trade, so for the most part we have no reason to pay attention to Denver this season.*

*Denver did deal a 2024 third-rounder to Seattle in this year’s draft, so maybe we’re not done just yet. It’ll either be their pick or the New Orleans Saints’ third-rounder, whichever one is lower (aka whichever team finishes with a better record).

Maybe some of you are genuinely uncaring as to what Wilson does in Denver. He was our franchise quarterback for a decade, now he’s someone else’s, and so far it’s gone alright for the Seahawks. I’d argue that the “winner” of the trade isn’t actually determined just yet. In boxing terms, the Seahawks are up 10-8 with a knockdown scored, so it’d take a lot for things to swing Denver’s way. One of the outcomes would be a Wilson career revival and for Geno Smith to regress. We’ll deal with the bigger picture on the trade on another day, but today we’ll focus just on Wilson.

Do you believe that Wilson can turn things around and salvage his disastrous start in the Mile High City?

The case for a bounce-back year

Wilson had a head coach who was way out of his depth in Nathaniel Hackett, whose clock management was so bad that one can only assume that his wristwatch is an absolute shambles. Hackett didn’t even last a full season and it became apparent that the team (and perhaps Wilson himself) checked out, and the Christmas Day embarrassment against the Los Angeles Rams was the final straw.

Sean Payton knows offense. He won a Super Bowl with Drew Brees and turned him into one of the all-time greats. Even post-Brees he almost engineered a playoff berth with the New Orleans Saints starting Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, and that one game with Ian Book because of a COVID outbreak. Every Seahawks fan who envisioned a world where Wilson worked with a renowned offensive mastermind is getting their wish, just on another team.

Denver invested heavily in the offensive line by signing former San Francisco 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey, as well as former Baltimore Ravens guard Ben Powers. We’re talking just under $140 million in contracts just on those two players.

When healthy, Denver’s wide receiver group is very talented. Tim Patrick is back from his ACL tear, Jerry Jeudy just had the best season of his young career, Courtland Sutton is a quality target, and I wouldn’t sleep on rookie third-round pick Marvin Mims out of Oklahoma. Outside of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, he was the receiver I wanted most in Seattle. Second-year tight end Greg Dulcich could also be one of Wilson’s favorite targets moving forward, and Javonte Williams is a running back I’m a fan of but was lost to injury last year.

Considering all of the injuries the Broncos suffered just on offense, including to Wilson himself, Denver’s season might have always been doomed to a fail. A reinvigorated and refocused Wilson with a better OL, a proven head coach, and a generally healthier team could be back to something resembling his best self. He was still one of the most accurate deep passers in the NFL, but the rest of the field was a problem.

The case that he’s washed

It’s no secret that a lot of what made Wilson such a great quarterback was his ability to escape pressure and also make a lot of magical plays with his legs. I’m here to tell you that he’s on his last legs, pun fully intended.

I don’t want to make it sound like Wilson is as immobile as Philip Rivers, but you are fooling yourself if you think he’s anywhere near the running threat he was from 2012-2017. That is a significant problem for his style of quarterbacking. His pressure-to-sack rate was in the gutter this year, more so than any other part of his career.

And independent of his diminished mobility, I don’t see why Hackett should take any culpability for a play like this where Wilson just about threw away 3 points to go for 7 into double coverage.

Three different coaches and three different offensive coordinators in the last three years have also placed Wilson in the empty sets we were used to seeing in a lot of 3rd down formations under Darrell Bevell... the results have been disastrous.

Moving forward, Wilson may be the case study for what happens to high-end dual threat QBs and their aging curves relative to Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Rivers or Aaron Rodgers. Quarterbacks are more involved in the run game than ever before, and Wilson was at the forefront of this movement a decade ago. If we are to assume usage rate matters substantially in a running back’s career, the same should apply to quarterbacks who are tasked with doubling as part-time running backs.

Wilson will be 35 in November and it seems unwise to continue to play him like he’s in his 20s. His once historically great durability is now waning and I don’t think 2022 was necessarily a one-off for his body. Those hits and sacks are taking a serious toll on him physically, and the day he clearly loses his elite accuracy is the day he’s not an NFL level starting QB anymore.

The only way for Russell to be an above-average quarterback again is to be a prototypical pocket passer, which also involves attacking the middle of the field a lot more than he’s done throughout his career. This also means everything around him has to be absolutely right, which is a big difference from when Wilson could overcome bad offensive lines and weak running games to still be successful.

If Wilson ends up faltering even with a better environment around him than last season, then it’s very clear that the Seahawks won the trade even if this year’s draft class isn’t as impactful as 2022. Seattle would’ve gotten high-end draft capital for a declining player, as opposed to the alternate world of paying him a ton of money (far more than Geno’s current contract) with potentially disastrous long-term results.

So what say you? Is Wilson reaching the point of no return or can Sean Peyton get him back on track? Join the discussion in the comments below!