Broncos bet big on Super Bowl QB formula with Russell Wilson trade | Opinion

Mike Jones

Land a star quarterback, land a championship?

That plan certainly worked to perfection for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams in each of the last two offseasons. Tom Brady helped deliver the former the Lombardi Trophy after bolting from New England in free agency two years ago. Then Matthew Stafford helped the Rams reach the summit after last year’s trade from Detroit.

Now the Denver Broncos are about to find out if the same can apply to them as well.

After pulling off a blockbuster trade that entailed shipping two first-round picks, two second-round picks and three players (including quarterback Drew Lock) to the Seattle Seahawks, the Broncos landed Russell Wilson, one of the most highly coveted quarterbacks of the offseason.

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Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson waves to fans as he leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in Seattle.

After Aaron Rodgers, who opted to remain in Green Bay after months of speculation, Wilson boasts a resume like none other:

  • A Super Bowl ring (from when he and the Seahawks defeated Denver in Super Bowl 48)
  • Nine Pro Bowl selections
  • The highest passer rating in 2015 and a passing touchdown crown (2017)
  • A Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year honor (2020)

Now, the Broncos are betting that the 33-year-old Wilson can use his talents to rack up even more individual accolades while turning them into a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Ever since Peyton Manning’s retirement after his Super Bowl-winning 2015 season, the Broncos have found themselves in search of the man that will lead them back to prominence.

Ten different quarterbacks have started games for them since Manning left. 

Count ‘em up: Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Lock, Brandon Allen, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien, Teddy Bridgewater. The figure is actually 11 if you count Phillip Lindsay lining up under center with the quarterback room wiped out by COVID-19 protocols in a contest two seasons ago.

But none of those options managed to deliver. In the six seasons since, the Broncos haven't even made it to the playoffs, giving them the second-longest active postseason drought of any team, and their offense has ranked in the bottom third of the league in most major statistical categories. 

However, Broncos brass has long looked at the roster — featuring a talented young defense and a burgeoning collection of explosive offensive weapons — and held the belief that all they needed was a game-changing quarterback.

The only thing holding them back, in their minds, was the average-to-awful level of quarterback play. So they sniffed around at Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and closely monitored the Aaron Rodgers situation. And now they have their man after giving up a king's ransom.

But does Wilson, as talented as he is, actually give them a chance? Is this well-founded confidence, or pipe dream?

Many within the NFL believe the former. The Broncos definitely have pieces to work with. That defense is only going to continue to get better as the young pieces continue to develop. There’s real talent on offense, both at receiver and running back.

And many around the league view new coach Nathaniel Hackett, a long-time offensive coordinator who has had a good deal of success at multiple stops, as the right kind of leader and innovative mind that Denver has needed. 

But there is the matter of the division. Denver finds itself in a very competitive AFC West ruled by Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, who have held the division crown for the last six seasons. Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers aren’t far behind. And despite all their recent turmoil, the Las Vegas Raiders did make the playoffs last season. 

Rising to the top of the division will prove challenging, especially given the franchise's 13-game losing streak in the rivalry to Kansas City. But, now the Broncos have that key piece — the piece — that all championship teams have: an All-Pro-caliber quarterback with plenty left in the tank. 

Now, the Broncos have a quarterback capable of masking deficiencies and elevating those around him. 

Now, they have the arm to engage Mahomes and Herbert in a shootout.

It’s just up to Hackett to blend the elements of his offense with the strengths Wilson offers. Giving him input in the system like the Bucs and Rams did with Brady and Stafford, respectively, will help the Broncos maximize their chances for success. 

It’s hard to catapult into the elite ranks in the matter of a season. But it’s a quarterback-driven league, and Wilson ranks among the smartest, most gifted signal-callers. And after years of frustrations as the Seahawks failed to surround him with adequate support, he’ll be highly motivated to deliver. 

The Broncos have endured the wilderness before while struggling to replace John Elway. Then, along came Manning, who provided the hope the fan base longed for, and he delivered the ultimate prize. Now the Broncos are counting on the same from Wilson. 

They’ve believed for some time now that they’re a quarterback away. Now that they finally have their guy, Denver brass and their fans are about to find out if they were right. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.