Russell Wilson Trade: Broncos Struggles Mean Seahawks Made Shrewd Move? – Sports Illustrated

When the Seahawks decided to finally turn nonstop rumors into full-fledged reality in March by trading Russell Wilson to the Broncos, the move was widely panned by critics with several narratives rising to the surface.
General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll had lost their touch. Trustee Jodie Allen had granted too much power to the front office braintrust and made the wrong choice choosing them over a franchise quarterback. Wilson would finally be able to thrive in an offense built around him after having many of his prime years wasted playing in a run-centric scheme, while Seattle would enter a dark rebuilding period without a quality replacement under center.
Though it's still very early in the 2022 season, with five games in the books, all of those narratives have been turned on their heads so far.
Following an ugly 12-9 overtime loss to the Colts on Thursday night, the Broncos have now lost three of their first five games in large part due to a sputtering offense and sit only half a game ahead of the Raiders for last place in the AFC West. Averaging only 15 points per game, they have surpassed the 20 point mark once in five games and currently rank 31st in the NFL in scoring ahead of only – ironically – the Colts.
At the center of those struggles, Wilson has endured the worst start of his 11-year career acclimating to a new team and a new offense with first-time head coach Nathaniel Hackett at the helm. Setting new personal-lows, his 59 percent completion rate and four touchdown passes are the lowest totals through the first five games he has posted since entering the league in 2012. His 82.8 passer rating is the second-lowest mark behind only his rookie year.
Put simply, the "Let Russ Cook" movement so far in the Mile High City hasn't resulted in five-star cuisine as the Broncos believed it would when they acquired him and signed him to a five-year, $242 million extension. Instead, he's set the kitchen on fire, leaving the quarterback, Hackett, and others within the organization desperately trying to figure out why things have gotten off to such an abysmal start and searching for a fire extinguisher.
Meanwhile, Carroll and Schneider might have been popping the cork on an expensive bottle of champagne in the Pacific Northwest keeping tabs on Thursday night's debacle at Empower Field. As Denver suffers from a bit of buyer's remorse, Seattle has already reaped the benefits of the Wilson deal with left tackle Charles Cross and linebacker Boye Mafe, who were each drafted with first and second-round picks acquired as part of the blockbuster deal, each playing well in major roles as rookies.
A day one starter after being selected ninth overall in April, Cross has yielded three sacks in his first four games and battled inconsistency as a run blocker thus far. But the former Mississippi State standout has fared well in his first NFL action, holding his own against 49ers star Nick Bosa and top-five pick Aidan Hutchinson over the last three weeks. As for Mafe, he's excelled setting the edge against the run, recording 13 tackles and a tackle for loss while seeing expanded playing time in recent weeks.
In addition, tight end Noah Fant and defensive tackle Shelby Harris have also been plugged in as starters at their respective positions and made positive contributions amid a surprising 2-2 start. Even with Fant not being much of a factor in the passing game to this point, his blocking has been an unexpected surprise, while Harris has chipped in with four quarterback pressures despite missing the majority of two games with a glute injury.
Aside from the positive early returns on the players received as part of the Wilson trade package, Carroll and Schneider also look like they knew what they were doing at the quarterback position.
After dealing away the nine-time Pro Bowler in March, they had opportunities to draft a signal caller in April and/or trade for an established veteran in either Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo to replace him. But instead, they opted to move forward by re-signing Geno Smith to compete against Drew Lock, who many viewed as little more than a throw-in as part of the Wilson trade.
Ultimately, Smith opened offseason activities with the first-team offense and never relinquished his hold on the position, going wire-to-wire to win the job over Lock in a competition that never really got started. Since then, he's made Carroll and Schneider look like geniuses with stellar play under center and helped fans quickly forget about Wilson's departure.
Aside from laying an egg in a 27-7 loss to the 49ers in Week 2, Smith has been nothing short of sensational orchestrating offensive coordinator Shane Waldron's offense. Playing with great confidence and efficiency, he's completed a league-best 77.3 percent of his passes for the Seahawks thus far, setting a new NFL record for the highest completion rate through four games, while tossing six touchdowns and only two interceptions with a 108.0 passer rating.
Even in advanced passing metrics, Smith has stacked up favorably against the likes of elite quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes in his long-awaited second chance as a starter. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, his 10 percent completion above expectation rate (CPOE) ranks first in the NFL by a full five percent ahead of Saints quarterback Jameis Winston and eight percent ahead of Rodgers. According to Sports Info Solutions, he also ranks second in passing total points (49) as well as points earned per pass play on true drop backs.
Statistically, Smith has outperformed Wilson in every notable passing metric, completing nearly 20 percent more of his passes with more touchdown passes in four fewer quarters of play.
Looking at other quarterbacks Seattle passed over this offseason, Mayfield has struggled mightily in Carolina after coming over via trade from Cleveland, completing only 54.7 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Garoppolo found himself back in the starting lineup in San Francisco after Trey Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury, throwing three touchdowns in three games.
As for the rookie quarterbacks Schneider could have selected, only Patriots fourth-round pick Bailey Zappe has thrown a touchdown so far this year, while first-round pick Kenny Pickett threw three interceptions in his first action for the Steelers last week. Stuck behind veterans, Desmond Ridder, Malik Willis, and Sam Howell have yet to play a down for the Falcons, Titans, and Commanders respectively either.
None of those players look like they would have pushed Smith for playing time. In fact, given how well the veteran is slinging the pigskin and commanding Waldron's offense right now, he may be a better long-term answer than any of the options available in an underwhelming quarterback draft.
If there's another reason why Carroll and Schneider have to be all smiles right now, Seattle has a chance to further infuse the roster with young talent next spring holding two first and two second-round picks. If they hit on several of those selections, including potentially landing a franchise quarterback in a deep class, the franchise could vault right back into playoff contention in quick order. On top of that, with Wilson's dead money off the books, they will have money to play with in free agency.
It's still early in the 2022 season and determining a true winner for the trade won't be possible until several years down the road. Given his pedigree and talent, Wilson could easily bounce back and return to form in coming weeks for Denver as he finds his footing in a new scheme, making the steep investment to acquire him well worth it. Smith could easily fall back to Earth too, setting Seattle up for a long rebuilding season as projected by many.
But after being laughed at by most analysts for jettisoning a franchise quarterback, the deal has undoubtedly been one-sided in the Seahawks favor thus far thanks to Smith's unexpected brilliance, the instant impact of rookies, and Wilson's steep decline in play. In the process, with a future suddenly looking much brighter than it did a few months ago, Carroll and Schneider have unexpectedly restored a bit of the shine on their reputation as shrewd team builders.
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