Analysis

What’s Next for Denver and Seattle After the Russell Wilson Trade?

What's Next for Denver and Seattle After the Russell Wilson Trade?

A few short hours after news broke that Aaron Rodgers will stay in Green Bay, the next major Quarterback domino fell as the Denver Broncos culminated a QB search that has gone on since Peyton Manning retired by trading for Russell Wilson.

Wilson leaves Seattle as the team’s career-leader in every single major statistical passing category except for interceptions. After one early-career Super Bowl win — over the Broncos nonetheless — occurred while Wilson was on his rookie contract and supported by the Legion of Boom, the Seahawks were unable to achieve another during Wilson’s tenure and the team’s performance began to slip in recent years.

For two teams in perhaps the most competitive divisions in football, this move signifies that the Broncos are aiming for contention and imagine Russell Wilson finishing his career there, while Seattle has pivoted to a potential rebuild or retooling.

Trade Terms:

Broncos Receive: Russell Wilson, Fourth-Round Pick

Seahawks Receive: 2 First-Round Picks, 2 Second-Round Picks, 1 Fifth-Round Pick, TE Noah Fant, DT Shelby Harris and QB Drew Lock

Broncos Post-Trade Outlook:

In the six seasons since winning Super Bowl 50 (and Peyton Manning’s subsequent retirement), the Broncos have started 10 different quarterbacks – 11 including the bizarre COVID/no QB on the roster game last season – have not made the playoffs, and only had a winning record once (the season after winning the Super Bowl). Last offseason, the team traded a sixth-round pick for Teddy Bridgewater in hopes that he would perform well enough to get the Broncos back to the playoffs.

The Broncos came into the offseason looking for a new Head Coach and ended up bringing in Nathaniel Hackett, the former OC of the Green Bay Packers. When assessing and looking at the Broncos roster as a whole, it became evident that in their division they would need a top-flight QB to compete. The AFC West is stacked with Patrick Mahomes, Derek Carr and Justin Herbert. Prior to today, the Broncos were the odd-man out of a franchise QB. 

With Wilson now trading navy blue and green for navy blue and orange, he’ll helm an offense of Javonte Williams, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and Cortland Sutton — a potentially dominant outfit that could be buoyed in free agency or via the draft.

Trading for Wilson filled what is easily their biggest need and one that has been a thorn in their side for the last handful of years, but it also created potential needs at tight end and on the defensive line.

At tight end, Albert Okwuegbunam will likely be asked to step into a starting role after the departure of Noah Fant, who has fallen a bit short of his first-round pedigree but has a lofty ceiling and won’t turn 25 until November. Fant is on the fourth year of his deal and will likely play on his fifth-year option. The Broncos may have felt that they were unlikely to keep Fant long-term if he commanded a top of market deal two years from now, which could have factored into their willingness to include him in this trade.

While the free agent tight end market dried up a bit after several received the franchise tag, there are still potential starting options to be had in free agency or with one of their remaining Day 2 picks if they choose to allocate significant resources to the position in Fant’s wake.

On the defensive side, the Broncos are young and strong across important position groups. They will enter 2022 coming off a season where they were third in the NFL in points allowed per game. Denver’s next step will be to add pieces to their DL after the loss of Harris. Additions across the defensive line will be paramount with Bradley Chubb coming off a disappointing year and the Broncos needing to prioritize getting after Mahomes, Herbert and Carr six times a year.

Plus, they need to add an impact player at the ILB position, as both starters from last season are free agents and second-year LB Brandon Browning is unlikely to wear the green dot this year.

Unless the Broncos plan to restructure or extend Wilson’s current contract, they will only owe him $51 million over the next two seasons, with cap hits of $24 million in 2022 and $27 million in 2023. As a result of trading the three players in this deal, the Broncos will save just over $24 million in 2022 and break even from a salary cap standpoint. 

The Broncos may have relinquished the No. 9 and No. 40 pick in the draft, but they still have nine picks to bolster their needs and add depth on both sides of the ball.

Seahawks Post-Trade Outlook:

From the Seahawks perspective, March 8 of 2022 is the beginning of a new era. As Adam Schefter reported, Seattle fielded calls from over a dozen teams.

They ultimately accepted a draft pick-heavy offer that also included two potential impact players in Fant and Harris, in addition to a flier on former Second-Round pick Drew Lock.

Harris is a 30-year-old defensive tackle with two years left on a 3-year, $27M deal signed prior to last season. He’s been considered a locker room leader in Denver and should step into a starting role in Seattle. Harris will likely be under his current deal for only this season, as Seattle will likely let him go next year with a $0 dead cap penalty, but he could rework his contract and extend if he gels with Pete Carroll’s defense.

Fant was the 20th overall pick and has played more than 68% of the Broncos’ offensive snaps each season since he was drafted. While his production has not been stellar, he has shown flashes of his potential if he had a consistent passer. Seattle will now have the obligation of deciding whether or not to exercise Fant’s 5th year option – which would pay him $6.85M in 2024 – prior to the May 2 deadline. 

Albert Breer reported that the Washington Commanders offered a package that included “high picks in the next three drafts,” but Seattle elected to trade him out of the NFC in sending him to Denver.

As a result of trading multiple first-round picks to the Jets for DS Jamal Adams, the Seahawks were lacking in draft capital going into the upcoming draft. The Seahawks’ first round selection in the 2022 draft is slotted as the 10th overall pick and belongs to the Jets. Assuming that one of the first round picks that Seattle acquired in this trade is Denver’s 2022 first rounder (#9 overall), the Seahawks are making up for overpaying for Adams. For a team that only had 4 first round selections over the last 9 drafts and has not drafted well outside of that in the past six drafts, this is a massive shot in the arm.

Moving forward, the Seahawks will be in the market for a QB of the future. They could decide to draft Malik Willis or Kenny Picket with the 9th overall pick, go after one of the free agent/trade candidate QBs on the market (Winston, Trubisky, Wentz, Garoppolo), or let Drew Lock “audition” in 2022 and reevaluate after the season.