The Nuclear Russell Wilson Option

Denver Broncos QB Russell Wilson
Denver Broncos QB Russell Wilson
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 17 - In this New Year's Eve edition of Walkthrough:

  • Tom Brady keeps the Tampa Buccaneers dangerous. Against weak opponents. Who score less than 17 points.
  • Brock Purdy keeps getting the job done, as long as the job is not too difficult.
  • Walkthrough walks through our most volcanic takes of 2022.

But first…

Russell Wilson and the Nuclear Option

Nuke the Russell Wilson Era!

Swallow that horse pill, Denver Broncos! Sink the Sunk Cost Fallacy at sea. Get the colonoscopy and the tax audit done on the same day. You already ditched Nathaniel Hackett. Now toss Wilson to the curb at the end of the season like a dried-out Christmas tree.

Longtime NFL analyst Gregg Rosenthal endorsed the Wilson Nuclear Option on Twitter after the Hackett dismissal. Releasing Wilson outright would be radical. On the surface, it sounds nearly impossible. Wilson would cost the Broncos a $107-million dead-cap hit in 2023 if released. That's two years of guaranteed salary ($25 million) plus leftover prorated signing bonus ($82 million). The Broncos could spread that hit across two years, but if they are causing themselves pain in 2024 they might as well play Wilson in 2023 and try to make the best of things.

While $107 million is a LOT of dead money, the Bears and Falcons are both eating over $80 million in dead money this year. So it's possible. Both teams were even quasi-competitive, with the Falcons starting the year 4-4. The Broncos could wipe their slate clean all at once in 2023 and start over in 2024 while not looking any worse on the field than they did in 2022. That makes at least as much sense as trying to sell a new coaching staff, the locker room, and fans on another year or two of Wilson.

Sean Payton would probably not sign up for a guaranteed rebuilding year. But Payton probably won't sign on for "make Russ right" duty, either, especially if the Broncos trade their first-round pick (formerly the 49ers pick, so 25th or so at the highest) to claim Payton's rights from the Saints. The Broncos should not be looking for insta-cures anyway. That's how they got into this mess. Nope: grab Shane Steichen or DeMeco Ryans, let him spend a year installing culture/scheme/vibes, and use that late first-round pick on a building block.

Walkthrough abhors Sashi Brown/Matt Rhule five-year rebuilding nonsense but loves a smart, tidy, credit-repair season. Keeping Wilson would actually represent a long-leash kinda-sorta rebuild, with the team swapping out pieces on the fly while trying to make the most of Wilson's Wile E. Coyote-off-a-cliff decline phase. One year in suspended animation, by contrast, would put the Broncos on much better footing to compete in 2024 and beyond.

What about Broncos season-ticket holders, you ask? Don't they deserve better than a 2023 season of guaranteed misery? Broncos ownership and their marketing department will soon ask themselves the same question. Plastering Wilson's name and face across promotional materials won't exactly spur renewals at this point. Broncos season-ticket holders are lifers. The team can sell them on the long game: renew your plan, go the StubHub route in 2023, then get ready for the excitement to return in 2024. Cutting the quarterback would actually signal to ultra-invested fans that the Broncos respect them and their money too much to try to milk Wilson's name recognition for another year.

So cut Wilson, new Broncos owner Daddy WalmartBucks. Release veterans such as Ronald Darby and Graham Glasgow (probably gone no matter what) and Justin Simmons (great player, but not a rebuilding block) to make ends meet. Trade Jerry Jeudy to the Bears for a draft pick. Extend Courtland Sutton. Back-load a new deal for Dalton Risner and let the other free agents walk. Rent Sam Darnold for a year. Signal to the NFL world that you are doing penance, or embarking on a grand experiment, or both. Trading for Wilson took courage. Releasing him will take more. But choking down your medicine is the quickest path to a cure.

And Wilson? He's due for a year of brooding in the Marvel supervillain farmhouse or something after this season. His story deserves a third act. But third acts typically open with a change of scenery.

Tom Brady, King of Comebacks (And Only Comebacks)

The Cheshire Cat disappeared completely, except for its grin. Tom Brady has disappeared completely, except for his fourth-quarter comebacks.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers trailed the woeful Arizona Cardinals 16-6 midway through the fourth quarter in Week 16. One Brady touchdown and two field goals later, they came away with a 19-16 overtime victory.

The Buccaneers trailed the punchless New Orleans Saints 16-3 midway through the fourth quarter in Week 13. Brady threw two touchdowns in the final three minutes for a 17-16 win.

The Buccaneers trailed the freefalling Los Angeles Rams 13-3 in the fourth quarter in Week 9. A Brady touchdown pass with nine seconds left sealed a 16-13 win.

Brady's magic still works! Against awful teams that can only score 16 points, anyway.

Here are Brady's 2022 statistics when trailing in the final four minutes: 47-of-64, 431 yards, seven touchdowns, zero interceptions, one sack, a 73.4% completion rate and 6.7 yards per attempt. That production does not include the parts of the comebacks above (like his first fourth-quarter drive on Christmas night) which took place before the four-minute mark. It also includes meaningless late touchdowns against teams that managed to crack the 20-point barrier. But it's still a remarkable late-game stat line.

Check out Brady's seasonal figures with and without his production when trailing in the final four minutes:

Raw Stats: 671 attempts, 443 completions, 4,178 yards, 21 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 66.0% completion rate, 6.22 yards per attempt.

Raw Stats Minus Last Four Minutes When Trailing: 607 attempts, 396 completions, 3,747 yards, 14 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 65.2% completion rate, 6.17 yards per attempt.

Brady's efficiency rating dips from 87.9 to 83.7 without those final four minutes when trailing. The rating formula, unlike DVOA, considers Brady to be a below-average quarterback in 2022. More on DVOA in a moment. But without those comebacks (and some garbage-time work), the rating formula places Brady on par with 2022 Mac Jones and Matt Ryan.

Brady has never thrown anywhere near seven touchdowns or 400-plus yards while trailing late in any of his past seasons, largely because Brady spent most of his career protecting late-game leads. He typically throws for about 150 yards and a touchdown or two per year in such situations. In 2021, he threw for 285 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions with a 60.5% completion rate when trailing in the final four minutes. Those numbers were relatively high by his standards. This year's figures are high by any standard.

Brady leads all NFL quarterbacks this season in late-game trailing yards and touchdowns. Kirk Cousins (naturally) is in second place with 390 yards while trailing late. Jared Goff, Geno Smith, and Justin Herbert are tied for second with four touchdowns each.

The only other quarterback since 2015 to throw seven late-game touchdowns while trailing was, ahem, Blake Bortles in 2015, when he also led the NFL in interceptions (18) and sacks (55). That wasn't Bortles' "good" season, mind you: the Jaguars went 5-11 in 2015.

Bortles threw for 653 yards when trailing late in 2015, the "record" in the Sports Info Solutions database. Brady ranks just 27th in such yards since 2015. There are many undistinguished Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, and Matthew Stafford seasons ahead of him: veteran quarterbacks on bad teams rack up lots of final-drive yards in losses, usually against soft coverage. Like Brady, they usually sprinkle a comeback or two (or three) among several fourth quarters where they are just adding to their career stat totals.

DVOA and DYAR have kept us grounded through Brady's 2022 decline year by reminding us that fourth-quarter drives and touchdowns do matter, not just against the Saints-Rams-Cardinals but against the Packers (a two-point conversion attempt—ruined by a delay-of-game penalty—could have forced overtime), the Steelers (another failed two-pointer, though too early in the fourth quarter for the data listed above), and Ravens (game was close late).

Brady is hanging around a DVOA tier with Andy Dalton and Geno Smith, and that suits him this season. Rearrange his in-game statistics so his late-game touchdowns came (for example) early in the third quarter, and Brady would look like any other savvy game manager, creaking out 17 points or so and trusting his defense to do the rest.

Brady is Brady, of course, so all of the late-game touchdowns look like residual sorcery. But the watchword as the Buccaneers close in on a fluky playoff berth is "residual." Brady has been name-dropped among Ryan, Carr, Stafford, Dalton, and Smith in this segment, plus Mac Jones and Blake Bortles. He used to effortlessly transcend such company. Now he fits squarely among the average-to-good veterans who can engineer wins when everything else is clicking.

Brady enters the playoffs as just another heady veteran. Any opponent who fears otherwise can make the magic disappear simply by scoring 20 points.

Purdy Papers

As mentioned in Monday's Walkthrough, Brock Purdy has attempted just 13 passes with the 49ers trailing this season. He is 6-of-13 for 76 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and no sacks when trailing. Nine of those attempts and the interception came in meaningless mop-up work against the Chiefs, so Purdy has essentially never played from behind since taking over as the 49ers starter.

Walkthrough has an adage: if you want to make an ordinary quarterback look outstanding, give him the lead and great field position. The 49ers have done just that.

Purdy has thrown just 12 passes from at or inside his own 20 this season. The 49ers rank fourth in average starting field position (the 29.6-yard line). Purdy led 34- and 33-yard touchdown drives against the Commanders, a 6-yarder against the Seahawks, and a 38-yarder against the Buccaneers. The 49ers defense keeps placing their offense within one broken George Kittle tackle of a touchdown, and Purdy is benefitting.

Here are Purdy's numbers on second/third downs with 10-plus yards to go: 19-of-28; 180 yards; no touchdowns, sacks, or interceptions; six first downs; 67.9% completion rate; 6.4 yards per attempt. The completion rate looks cherry, but the six first downs reveal what's going on: a checkdown-o-rama. Kyle Shanahan will trade short completions (or incompletions) on obvious passing downs for turnover-free play. He can do so because the 49ers often have the lead and spend a lot of time at or near field goal range. It all takes pressure off the seventh-round rookie quarterback, making him appear more effective than he might look if he spent the second half trying to engineer 75-yard touchdown drives while trailing by two scores.

Everything in this segment is rather simple and intuitive, and Walkthrough has performed this kind of basic analysis on other young quarterbacks in the past. Even if you have not watched the 49ers much, you probably suspected that Purdy has benefited heavily from the system and circumstances, just as Jimmy Garoppolo benefited before him. It's always worth itemizing the receipts, however, especially during that period when a novice quarterback has started a few games but has not yet turned into a pumpkin.

Purdy may not turn into a pumpkin against the Raiders or Cardinals, two opponents the 49ers should pummel with no need for quarterback heroics. The 49ers defense even has an impressive track record for keeping it from happening in the playoffs. But no quarterback benefits from ideal circumstances forever. At some point soon, Purdy will face third-and-12 from his own 15-yard line in the fourth quarter while trailing by 10. We know what Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, and even Jalen Hurts are capable of in those circumstances. (We also know that Kirk Cousins will throw a 5-yard pass and the Vikings will punt, but the opponent will just muff the punt or something.) We don't know what Purdy will do, but we can make an educated guess.

After all, if Shanahan could make any old quarterback look special indefinitely, he'd have two Super Bowl rings by now.

The Year in Walkthrough Takes

I write lots and lots of stuff here at Walkthrough over the course of a calendar year. Some of it is rather perfunctory: Hey, the Eagles won on Sunday, or Hey, Brock Purdy is still an unheralded rookie. But sometimes I serve up a sizzling, sports talk-worthy tAkE in an effort to galvanize agreement/disagreement, firmly establish a position, or just drum up a little business.

Let's wrap up the 2022 calendar year by looking back at some of Walkthrough's steamiest takes to see just how often I was right and what lessons we can take with us into 2023.

Matt Ryan Trade Hurts the Colts and Falcons (March 21)

Well, Ryan certainly hurt the Colts. The Falcons had left themselves with no better options. The headline may have been (heaven forbid) purposely click-baity.

NFL Free Agency 2022 Winners and Losers (March 24)

Lotta big whiffs here, like giving the Chiefs a D or the Bears a B-. Like the last column, this one contains variations on my Matt Ryan is Toast take/running gag, which proved to be devastatingly correct. Enjoy She-Hulk, Derrik!

Which Team Will be the Most Fun in 2022? (May 9)

These rankings were way off. The Rams and Cardinals ranked second and third. The Lions ranked 30th. Fortunately, no one in the NFL media has ever lost a job over their failure to properly quantify "fun."

The Decline and Fall of Derrick Henry (May 12)


Henry's outstanding 2022 season now officially places him on a Pro Football Hall of Fame trajectory. He's nearly a lock to eclipse 10,000 rushing yards. That's no longer a real PFHoF milestone, but Henry will do it with a highlight reel straight from the 1970s and a did-it-all-by-himself reputation. More on that in the offseason!

The Reckless Abandonment of Justin Fields (May 16)

This take, which rankled some high-profile Bears observers, proved 100% correct.

Two things to watch for this offseason: 1) upgrading at wide receiver won't be easy, because the free-agent class is nothing special and none of the first-round prospects look like Ja'Marr Chase; and 2) the Bears will be tempted to spend a mid-round pick on a Mister Spunky Pocket Guy or add an insurance-policy backup with name recognition. When that happens, sit back and watch a predictable narrative take on a life of its own.

Predicting Baker Mayfield's Future (May 26)

Wrong in the details but correct conceptually. Mayfield has done just enough with the Rams to keep his headlines-to-results ratio sky-high through at least 2023.

Cleveland Browns Going for Broke (June 2)

Football Outsiders projected that the Broncos might collapse because of their defense, which was a big whiff. The Browns ended up wasting this season, the Saints did exactly what everyone except Mickey Loomis fanbois knew they would do, and the 49ers kept dancing on the rim of the volcano.

I'm surprised and pleased that I did not place the Vikings on the list in this feature; they may have been a last-minute deletion when the FO projections were finalized.

Just Say No to the New York Jets (June 17)

If you played the Jets OVER 5.5 wins for a decent sum at -165 you earned a lovely little payout. And if you bet that a New York/New Jersey team will win the Super Bowl at +550, you still have the Bills. And Giants. But really the Bills. Whom you could have just wagered at +600.

Mid-June takes are what they are. There's not much to talk about that time of year. I'm happy to have found a fun hook!

The Patriots Way: An Obituary (August 9)

So accurate that I rewrite it from time to time and pass it off as fresh content.

Do Starters Need to Play in the Preseason? (September 15) and Solving the Bengals Sack Problem (September 21)

The Bengals offensive line improved soon after all of us filed our September articles about its issues. The Cowboys, Bengals, and (more gradually) Packers offenses got back on track after early-season pratfalls, though other teams mentioned in the preseason playing time feature just turned out to be bad.

Walkthrough stands behind the hypothesis that starters need a little preseason playing time to ensure that they are in synch in September. Of course we will re-evaluate as we get more data next year.

Dan Campbell EXPOSED, Etc. (October 9)

Oops. I enjoy being wrong in ways that make the NFL more interesting. This job is more fun when Campbell types are enjoying success.

Should the Carolina Panthers Hold a Fire Sale? (October 12)

If you are looking at the Panthers right now and thinking, "yeah, but they could have had the Rams' first-round pick in 2025 instead of Brian Burns," you have lost your way as a sports fan and Walkthrough can do nothing to help you.

David Bakhtiari and the NFL's Left Tackle Injury Crisis (October 21)

Scoring remains low: just 22.0 points per game through Week 16, the lowest value since 2017. Left tackle injuries are probably a tiny variable contributing to the decline, at most. Bakhtiari's health did not line up significantly with the Packers' offensive success: he played well in games when the Packers could not move the ball and was absent for a few of their biggest wins. Still, it's often a good idea to perform an offensive line reality check before making sweeping claims about quarterbacks, coaches, and so forth. I'm happy I wrote this feature, because I feel like the sheer amount of midseason left tackle injuries needed to be itemized and discussed.

What if Justin Herbert isn't All That Great? (December 9)

This article ticked a few people off, some of whom even read it.

We are not going to get into all of this right now. I set clear, attainable benchmarks in that article for Herbert to surpass to achieve some meaningful sort of "greatness." He has already led the Chargers to a playoff berth, and he has two weeks left to climb past luminaries such as Ryan Tannehill and Andy Dalton into the top 15 in DVOA/DYAR.

Some colleagues sounded almost personally offended by the idea that Herbert needs to achieve any goals before achieving "greatness." That's how analysis works, folks: theories are supposed to be testable, verifiable, and falsifiable. I was wrong about Derrick Henry and Dan Campbell and right about Matt Ryan. If someone balks at the concept of establishing some sort of criteria about their opinions, then they aren't really doing analysis. The film study community should welcome such criteria as objective guardrails to keep what can be a highly subjective and insular approach to football from veering far off track. But again, we'll all learn more in the weeks to come.

That nugget of wisdom leads us to my Walkthrough New Year's Resolution: more concrete, explicit, and actionable takes for 2023. I plan to be analytical, informative, entertaining, and dad-jokey in the new year, but I also want to provide as many opinions as possible which will help you win a wager, a fantasy tournament, or just a Reddit argument. I want my draft and free agency content to be low on filler and high on protein: this kid could be an All-Pro; this signing makes the Panthers a playoff team. When it's time to inform a debate, I plan to inform actual debates, not pile-on feel-good arguments against lazily bundled strawmen: dunking on Dak haters is like dunking on a toddler's basketball playset, and it cheapens and weakens the work Football Outsiders and other analysis-heavy sites strive to do.

And of course, Walkthrough will continue to steadfastly refuse to merely parrot what everyone else (including the brightest minds in the analysis/film study communities) is saying, because skepticism needs a clearer, more measured, and more experienced voice than, say, Emmanuel Acho.

And with that, Happy New Year to all! See you on the first Monday of 2023.


85 comments, Last at 02 Jan 2023, 10:11pm

#1 by jjohnson177 // Dec 29, 2022 - 11:36am

Broncos season ticket holders should be careful about going "the Stubhub route in 2023"

Points: 0

#3 by jds // Dec 29, 2022 - 11:49am

That's funny.  I took that comment to mean that the season ticket holders should dump their tickets on Stubhub for the year, and come back next year.  

Points: 4

#5 by jjohnson177 // Dec 29, 2022 - 11:55am

That is what the comment was. And the Broncos have been known to revoke access to season tickets to those who sell all of their games on Stubhub. So maybe pick a game in Sept to attend when the weather is still decent.

Points: 1

#2 by IlluminatusUIUC // Dec 29, 2022 - 11:42am

And if you bet that a New York/New Jersey team will win the Super Bowl at +550, you still have the Bills. And Giants. But really the Bills. Whom you could have just wagered at +600.

I didn't know betting on a state to win the Super Bowl was a thing, but now that I do, I'm curious what the other multi-team states combined odds would have been. These are the preseason odds per PFR:

Ohio: Cincinnati +2080 /  Cleveland +3700

Maryland/DC: Baltimore +1880 / Washington +7600

California: Chargers +1380 / Rams +1120 / San Francisco +1600

Florida: Jax +13000 / Miami +3900 / Tampa +780

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia +2440 / Pittsburgh +8000

Texas: Houston  +29000 / Dallas +1960


Points: 0

#4 by ImNewAroundThe… // Dec 29, 2022 - 11:52am

Overreaction at its best...erm worst. Cut Russ to rent Darnold. One of the most pointless ideas ever tbh.

Points: 0

#7 by BigRichie // Dec 29, 2022 - 12:15pm

Nope. Cut Russ now to reduce the $$$$$$$$$ pain while bringing that reduced amount on all at once.

Mike (actually jumping on the idea of that guy he cited) is proposing football contract amputation. A horrendous solution which, when the limb was gangrenous, indeed was actually the least horrendous solution.

Chances of the Broncos actually doing it are .001%. But if Russ is indeed cooked, or has made himself irretrievably hated in the locker room, the Broncos are in horrible, horrible shape. Won't even reach the Starting Over stage until whenever they do put Russ's contract into the rearview mirror.

Points: 3

#8 by BigRichie // Dec 29, 2022 - 12:20pm

Myself, I wouldn't actually do this. Instead take the 1-year gamble that it was 98% Hackett's fault.

(but one season later we Russell skeptics are looking one heckuva lot better than you Russell fanboys)

Points: 5

#57 by Pat // Dec 30, 2022 - 12:15pm

Nope. Cut Russ now to reduce the $$$$$$$$$ pain

Cutting Wilson now does absolutely nothing money wise, save any possible injury guarantees (which are mitigatable anyway). Play or not play in '23, total amount charged to the cap is exactly the same.

while bringing that reduced amount on all at once.

There is zero reason to take a huge cap hit in one year. None. The only thing it does is reduce your options - if some player has a fantastic year and you want to lock him up long-term at a reduced rate, you can only do that if you have space, and if you don't have anyone like that, you just let the space roll over to the next year freely. Not spending money during the year is easy, adding space during the year is limited (since player's salaries are already being paid).

Teams are much more up against the cap in recent years thanks to the pandemic pullbacks so you don't see large cap rollovers right now, but they'll come back quickly, and there are still a few cases due to other issues (like the Browns).

Points: 0

#62 by BigRichie // Dec 30, 2022 - 2:20pm

This makes totally negative-sense.

Every $ I take of cap hit in '23 I no longer have to take afterward. It is now paid off.

Rollover pertains to cap room I DIDN'T take this year. I get to use that in following ones.

Points: 0

#64 by Pat // Dec 30, 2022 - 2:46pm

Rollover pertains to cap room I DIDN'T take this year

Yes, but I can manufacture cap space by pushing it forward via a number of mechanisms. You don't have infinite ways to do that, so you don't do it for everyone, and you don't do all of it. You only get 2 post-June 1 designations per year, for instance, so you want to make them count as much as possible. But when it's a $107M hit, obviously you spread it out to give yourself room.

Example: I want to sign a guy for $10M for 1 year in '22. But instead, I tack on a void year and spread the cap hit $6M in '22 and $4M in '23. This gives me $4M extra cap space in '22. If I don't spend it, it rolls over to '23 and I get $4M extra... with a $4M hit, for a net of zero, and exactly the same effect as if I had just paid him $10M in '22.

Now, if you spend that $4M in '22, obviously the extra $4M hit in '23 hurts if things don't work out. But that's not because you spread the money - it's because you spent the extra $4M poorly.

There's no reason whatsoever not to spread money forward to open cap space in the current year. If you don't use it, the money pushed forward just cancels, it's your choice to use it or not use it, and making cap space during the season is much, much harder than not using it.

FO's made the argument, for instance, that the Colts "regret" converting Matt Ryan's contract at the beginning of the year because it means they'll have a big dead cap hit next year. But that's pointless - if they hadn't done it, they would've had a larger cap hit this year, and they would've had to borrow on someone else's contract to get under the cap. If you would criticize anything there, it's for spending up to the cap on the belief that they were a contender, but that has nothing to do with pushing Ryan's cap hit forward.

Points: 1

#9 by mansteel // Dec 29, 2022 - 12:23pm

Behold the last man aboard the Russell Wilson bandwagon. What say you to trading him straight up for Kirk Cousins?

Points: 0

#27 by Led // Dec 29, 2022 - 4:32pm

I wouldn't "hate" on Fields.  He's an exciting player.  But at this point his ceiling is Cam Newton.  Now that's good, if he can get there!  Cam was unfairly maligned, and a good QB for most of his career.  Fields, however, has quite a ways to go to hit that ceiling.  Newton was a much more effective passer than Fields at this stage in their careers and more efficient (if not as spectacular) as a runner.  And Newton may well have been a unicorn to be able to handle over 100 carries a year without missing major time.  He only missed 5 games in his first 8 years.  Lamar Jackson (a much better passer than Fields) has already missed 10 games in 5 years.  We'll see if Josh Allen can keep it up.  Anyway, I think going all in on Fields is a big risk.  Odds are you get a poor man's Cam who misses chunks of seasons due to injury.  There will be tantalizing highlights and lots of fantasy points but not enough wins.    

Points: 5

#43 by JoelBarlow // Dec 29, 2022 - 8:59pm

the constant meta narrative on Fields is annoying, it seems like a majority of people have this frame of "well everyone is unfairly maligning this QB, and we all know what the masses think of him and how they long for Peterman..." meanwhile he's largely beloved by the media and been given a free pass for two years

also he cannot throw

Points: 1

#51 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 30, 2022 - 11:28am

The games I’ve seen suggest his receivers cannot catch.

No doubt he struggles with reads and timing. But his receivers are horrendous.

Points: 3

#58 by Pat // Dec 30, 2022 - 12:47pm

Yeah, Fields is basically not much farther than he should've been as a rookie. Given his coaching staff and receivers, it's understandable, but it's still a serious concern. He's basically had 2 years of receivers failing him, so it's going to be interesting to see how fast those instincts go away with better receivers (assuming they get them).

Points: 0

#66 by mansteel // Dec 30, 2022 - 4:48pm

Bears receivers have the second-fewest number of dropped passes in the league.

Points: 0

#12 by bravehoptoad // Dec 29, 2022 - 1:26pm

It's a very pointy idea: to clear your books for 2024. 

Points: 1

#14 by IlluminatusUIUC // Dec 29, 2022 - 1:35pm

Is it even feasible? OTC has Denver with ~16 million in cap space next year. Swallowing the Wilson spiked pill in a single year would force them to cut basically everyone else they can just to field a roster, and now you have a roster with no talent and no picks.

I think the only realistic options are to try to fix him next year or pay him to go away (the '21 Texans - Watson method) and unload him in 23.

Points: 1

#15 by ImNewAroundThe… // Dec 29, 2022 - 1:45pm

No. That's why it's a bad idea. But hating on Russ is great for clout. 

Points: -2

#46 by Rufus R. Jones // Dec 29, 2022 - 9:40pm

Bad idea or not, the article still gives an interesting and thoughtful analysis of the possibilities. Author is clearly taking the approach that it is outside the box, the least considered possibility, AND not likely. But fathomable. And clearly explains how it could be done, whether it will or not. Plus, I liked it. I think Wilson clowning and the trade turning drastically Seattle's way- to everyone's at least moderate surprise- has been damn entertaining and good for the league. Makes some of these "rebuilding" trades seem worth it to the fans going through the rebuilding.

Points: 0

#23 by Pat // Dec 29, 2022 - 2:27pm

Yes, it is. You release him as a post-June 1 cut, so the majority falls in '24. Costs them an extra $17M in '23, but that's manageable, especially because the funky June 1 mechanics actually means the $17M hit doesn't actually land until June 1. And they could free up quite a lot next year very easily (Darby and Glasgow would give them $20M+ cap space immediately, with only a handful of players needed).

From a cap standpoint there's no reason to do it (unless there are injury guarantees) because his '23 salary's guaranteed, so playing/not playing does nothing in '23, and obviously releasing as a post June 1 cut at the beginning of '24 means that $107M is now paid in '23 ($22M), '24 ($35.4M) and '25 ($59.6M), so it's functionally "cheaper" than eating it $39M/$68M in '23/'24.

It's worth pointing out I don't believe the Broncos can even really trade Wilson in '23, because while you can "designate" players as post-June 1 cuts before June 1, you can't do the same for trades. So they'd have to actually trade him after June 1, which is really unlikely.

Points: 2

#26 by IlluminatusUIUC // Dec 29, 2022 - 3:06pm

Yes, it is. You release him as a post-June 1 cut, so the majority falls in '24.

That's the exact option Tanier discounts: "The Broncos could spread that hit across two years, but if they are causing themselves pain in 2024 they might as well play Wilson in 2023 and try to make the best of things."

His article is pitching the idea of eating it all at once so there's no more dead money in 24. I don't think it is possible.

Points: 0

#38 by Pat // Dec 29, 2022 - 7:23pm

Yeah, I know, but FO regularly seems to misunderstand that you can push cap forward freely: there's exactly zero benefit to taking a $107M cap hit in 22 and $0 in 23 vs spreading it in 2: if you don't use the space in 22, it rolls to 23 canceling the cap hit you pushed there. It's why the Browns aren't spending that $30+M in space.

Could the Broncos cut salary enough to be scot free in 24? Not exactly, but close. They'd need to toss most of the roster, but they do have a lot of underleveraged guys.

But in Wilson's case, there's absolutely no reason to do that (again, outside of injury guarantee). You might as well leave him on the roster and bench him, since that allows you to spread the hit over 23, 24, and 25.

And again, if you *can* spread cap forward like that, you do. There's no downside: if you don't need it, you don't use it, and it rolls forward.

So while they can't really absorb the full $107M next year, they wouldn't want to anyway. And in fact keeping Wilson for next year is better for the cap anyway, so unless he's like, a disaster in the locker room or something, you give him another shot and move on in the '23-'24 off-season with not a lot of pain anyway. Yes, insanely, ~60M dead in '25 is not a lot of pain, believe it or not.

Points: 1

#70 by MarkV // Dec 31, 2022 - 12:44pm

This would not really work.  June first cap space only goes onto your cap on... June 1st.  So the Broncos would have to cut wilson, find an enormous amount of space by cutting everyone, and then get most of the space back in June.

Points: -1

#76 by Pat // Dec 31, 2022 - 10:17pm

No, it doesn't work like that. With a "designated" post-June 1 cut, what happens is that until June 1, the team carries the pre-cut version of his cap hit. It's like the NFL "pretends" that he hasn't been cut, and is still on the team until June 1. In fact, the reason for "designated post-June 1" cuts is because there were too many vets being cut after June 1 for cap savings when it's harder for them to find a roster spot. So the NFL created a mechanism to keep the cap savings, but give vets a better situation to find a new roster.

Normally when teams cut a player, their cap charge would go down in a post-June 1 situation, so you normally say "hey, you have to carry the player at their salary until June 1 when you get the space." But in this case, the cut increases the cap hit, so what actually happens is that the Broncos would have extra space until June 1 (just carrying his current hit) and then the prorated version of his '24 salary (which is guaranteed) would fall on the cap and increase it, and his '23 salary (which is guaranteed as well) would stay there.

Points: 1

#71 by MarkV // Dec 31, 2022 - 1:12pm

This is technically possible.  Some variation of:

Start with 12.5m cap space

Cut Wilson: (lose 85M cap space)

Trade Garett Bolles -  (gain 10m cap) not sure this could be done - hes hurt with a broken leg, but not totally awful. 

Trade Justin Simmons (gain 10.65m cap)

Cut Ronald Darby (gain 10 m)

Cut Graham Glasgow (gain 11m)

Cut Josey Jewell (gain 5m)

Cut Mike Purcell (+3.5m)

Cut Chase Edmonds (+6m)

Cut Albert Okwuegbunam (+1.1m)

Cut Justin Strnad (+1.1m)

Cut Jacob Martin (+4M).
This puts denver at just over 10m over the cap, needing to sign 11 players, plus draft class, plus working during season. We will say they need approximately 25m more. They can trade Randy Gregory and pick up 7.7, Courtland Sutton and pick up 6.85, DJ Jones and pick up 7.01.  Cut McManus and pick up 2.5.  Trade Jerry Jeudy and pick up 2.6.  Extend and or renegotiate a couple of more deals, and they are ready for 2023. 

Anyone who is near the end of their contract, or who couldn't be traded, could be extended for similar impact.
This would mean Denver loses their:
Starting QB, LT, LG, RT, WR #1, WR#3, DT#1,DT#2, DE#1, NT, Edge #1, ILB #1, ILB #2,CB#2 FS, SS, plus many many depth players.  They pretty much cannot afford to replace any of them with anyone making more than the minimum.  They probably want to move on from Glasgow, Darby, Purcell, Edmonds, Okwuegbunam, Strnad, and Martin so its not a totally crazy move, but the price is indeed quite high.

Points: 0

#13 by Kaepernicus // Dec 29, 2022 - 1:34pm

The Purdy take is right and a conundrum for projecting future performance from new starters when they are this effective. His play has directly contributed to the lack of opportunities to play from behind. The Chiefs game is also pretty bad data since he was thrown into the end of a blowout with no 1st team reps and a bunch of other starters benched. His only meaningful offensive possessions where the 49ers were tied or behind since he was named starter have been immediately followed by a TD drive by the 49ers. The closest glimpse we have to what he would do in that situation comes from the Commies game when they were tied at half time. The 49ers got the ball first after half time and put together a 7 play 76 yard TD drive and never looked back.

I watched him do some goofy stuff at ISU when trailing, seriously check out the TCU game, so I am expecting some hilarious low light soon. I think SF fans need to see it so we can see the response to the big mistake. The closest thing I have seen to that was when he got bailed out on a bad interception vs. TB and then threw a TD pass to Aiyuk while getting crushed by a DT on the next play. There is another confounding variable for the last 2 games. He has been dealing with an oblique injury he suffered against TB. This week is the first time he has been healthy since the 1st half against TB. I think the injury has affected Kyle's play calling more than we have realized. Either way this is going to be fun to watch play out. There is a chance that his last 2 games are closer to his floor than his ceiling.

Points: 2

#16 by TomC // Dec 29, 2022 - 2:01pm

The triumphalism on the Fields/Bears take is odd. I mean, yes, the Bears surrounded Fields with the least talented offense in the league. But that's not a take. Everyone agrees that is factually true (and 98% of people agreed with it when the original article was written). The take is that they were doing so because they wanted a rookie QB in 2023.

New Ryan and New Matt are also playing a self-preservation game. "This season is the last regime's fault. We're not responsible for anything, so don't expect us to win. And we'd rather reset our expectation clock in 2023 at Year 1 with a rookie than at Year 3 with Fields, because that buys us extra time to not have to worry about success."

Is Mike saying this was 100% correct? It's highly unlikely now that the Bears dump Fields and draft a rookie (as Mike acknowledges in today's piece), so is he saying that he somehow knows that the plan was to dump Fields and draft a rookie, and Poles/Eberflus were forced to change those plans by Fields's performance? I guess that's possible, but there's no way to prove it. 



Points: 5

#24 by BigRichie // Dec 29, 2022 - 2:31pm

New has very strong political views. They dramatically color what he thinks of quarterbacks.

(which they actually did for Mike too, up to a year or two back; and Mike gets paid for this!)

Points: 1

#28 by Eddo // Dec 29, 2022 - 4:37pm

Agreed.  I can see the extremely cynical view that Tanier had in the spring, but there are two significant signs the Bears are committed to Fields.  They clearly started tailoring the offense to his strengths after the first few weeks (though it's fair to question why it took that long) and they traded a decent amount to get Claypool.

I also think previous Walkthrough criticism of the Roquan Smith trade ignores the fact that it seems pretty obvious he wouldn't re-sign with the Bears.  Maybe that's on Poles and the front office mishandling the situation, or maybe it's legitimately that they don't want to pay a non-edge LB top dollar.  Philosophically, the latter seems like a good move.  And they got two picks for him, which I thought was a fairly good return given their lack of theoretical leverage.

Points: 2

#29 by Steve in WI // Dec 29, 2022 - 4:52pm

I never doubt that GMs sometimes act mainly out of self-preservation, but I never even bought into the idea that Poles dumping Fields and drafting a first round rookie in 2023 would be such an act. I see it as the opposite. Barring a Zach Wilson-level flameout in year 2, getting rid of a promising QB with two years left on a rookie contract in order to spend a first-round pick on a different one, when the rest of the team on both offense and defense has too many pre-existing holes to fully fix in a year, strikes me as a more personally risky move for Poles than trying to build around Fields and bring him back for 2023.

It's not even like the Bears are known for being impatient with GMs or coaches; if anything it's the opposite.

Points: 3

#44 by JoelBarlow // Dec 29, 2022 - 9:02pm

QBs as well... they gave Trubisky 50 starts

Points: 0

#56 by JonesJon // Dec 30, 2022 - 12:10pm

The thing about that take that never made sense was that Poles was the top choice for Minnesota's GM spot. It wasn't like the Bears job was a once in a lifetime opportunity for him. If he thought Fields was going to be so bad he'd flame out in his first full year as starter why even take the job?

Points: 0

#18 by mehllageman56 // Dec 29, 2022 - 2:05pm

Hope the Jets pay attention to this situation and do not do as the Broncos did.  No reason to give up assets for always injured Garopollo or an aging star who may supernova your cap if you can get competence from a Mike White or Minshew for less, and still try to develop Wilson (even though the entire eastern seaboard wants his -83 DYAR shot into the sun) or a 2nd round rookie like Hendon.

Points: 1

#25 by Joey-Harringto… // Dec 29, 2022 - 2:46pm

Do you think the Jets' locker room would be okay with Z. Wilson being in mix during training camp next year?  He seems so disliked that his WRs were visibly angry at him during games, and the offensive lineman had t-shirts made paying tribute to his replacement.  

There's also the fact that quarterbacks who had a bad rookie years, and then fail take a significant leap in their second years, have a very poor track record of eventually becoming quality starters.

Points: 1

#31 by ArcLight // Dec 29, 2022 - 5:11pm

The problem with having Zach is he would be shunned and there would be fear he might play again.

He harmed the development of the WRs and wasted fine efforts by the defense.


He is hated by the fans and booed all the time.  If the backup QB  comes in and completes a pass, he gets cheered.

Thats how much Zach and his 3 and outs is hated.

Points: 1

#19 by charliemarx48 // Dec 29, 2022 - 2:08pm

I can’t see doing the nuclear option with Wilson after one season. It’s comparing apples to oranges a little bit, but in baseball if a quality player collapses in one year, projections expect a little bit of a bounce in the next season. 
I think if you revamp the whole coaching staff and get lucky, they should be able to see what went wrong this season and form a better offense to the remaining strengths of Wilson. I just can’t believe you can be a quality starter one year, and then in an instant the career is over with no hope of redemption

Points: 3

#22 by BigRichie // Dec 29, 2022 - 2:26pm

My understanding is the Plexiglass Principle does also apply to football. Less strongly, given that injuries are more apt to suddenly and not-always-visibly crater a football player's talent level.

So yes, in football you can be a quality starter one year, then toast the next. And keep in mind in this case that Russell did NOT! have a good '21 season. Due to, well, injury.

Points: 1

#20 by Pat // Dec 29, 2022 - 2:17pm

The Broncos could spread that hit across two years, but if they are causing themselves pain in 2024 they might as well play Wilson in 2023 and try to make the best of things.

It depends a bit on Wilson's contract. If his contract is "exactly" as reported ('22, '23 and '24 guaranteed, '25 guarantees in '24 offseason) yeah, it doesn't make any sense to cut him as a post-June 1 cut in '23 because it saves you exactly nothing over a post June 1 cut just after the '23 offseason (barring offset language, which is unlikely).

But if there are injury guarantees in it, that changes things: then, if he gets injured in the '23 offseason and he's released as a post-June 1 cut still injured, the injury guarantee would trigger and cost buckets more. If they've decided to move on from him anyway, it's a huge risk to keep him playing.

Points: 0

#32 by ArcLight // Dec 29, 2022 - 5:12pm

 if he gets injured in the '23 offseason and he's released as a post-June 1 cut still injured, the injury guarantee would trigger and cost buckets more.


That would be the case, and it's why if he stays, and continues to paly poorly, will be benched, to avoid that from happening.

Points: 0

#55 by Pat // Dec 30, 2022 - 12:07pm

If his '25 salary is already guaranteed for injury, playing him at all is a risk. There's no reason he couldn't get injured week 1 and now you're toast through '24.

Points: 0

#21 by ArcLight // Dec 29, 2022 - 2:20pm

Walkthrough abhors Sashi Brown/Matt Rhule five-year rebuilding nonsense 


Mike, how long should a rebuild take?  On average, assuming neither  great luck or bad luck with draft picks.

I've seen team rebuild much faster than 5 years  - if they hit on a QB.  If not, they may have improved enough they find it hard to draft another good prospect.  They either have to take a lesser prospect (which still works some of the time) or pay up to trade up (which fails a fair amount of the time).



If the Broncos June 1 Wilson, it crushes their cap for 2 years, and may force them to get rid of players they may want.

It may also force them to extend players they don't want to extend.  In short it's not juts "tear the band aid off and after 2024 we are good".  There may be other repercussions.  Having players on the  roster you don't want (cut them and more dead cap), or letting some players go.  

Maybe tanking 2023 with a practice squad QB is the answer, to draft a QB in 2024.

With a better HC they may still win some games and "wreck" their tank.

The  team has a good Defense and may be too good to tank effectively.
Would an HC agree to tank his first year, in order to draft a QB?  Maybe.

Wouldn't the owner get in trouble if that came out?


Alternatively, go with Wilson.  If he stinks, bench him to avoid injury.  Maybe he plays OK.

In any case cut him after the season.  Draft a QB.    This lets them pay $22,000,000 in 2023, and the rest over the next 2 years, when the cap is higher.

Points: 0

#30 by KnotMe // Dec 29, 2022 - 4:58pm

I agree that 1 year rebuild are unrealistic unless you get lucky at QB. Even then. You can get back to the playoffs in 1-2 years I think but getting to be an actual contender is waaay harder. 5 years is actually reasonable and probably still needs some luck. 


Realistic Denver has to hope russ gets better. Bc if they cut him and he improves elsewhere heads roll. 

Points: 0

#33 by ArcLight // Dec 29, 2022 - 5:16pm

Denver has some good players, and are too good in 2023 to really tank badly, unless they throw games (i.e. have Nathan Peterman or me as the QB) they won't get the #1,#2.

Go with Russ, hope he's so-so, then cut him.

Draft a QB in 2024.

Points: 0

#41 by mehnsrea // Dec 29, 2022 - 7:35pm

Eagles did it in one year and the jury is still out on Hurts. They choked down their medicine by trading Wentz and built O line.

Points: 1

#50 by KnotMe // Dec 30, 2022 - 9:12am

You can do it in one year, you just need to get lucky on your drafting. The Patriots are the example of what happens if you don't get lucky. They are probably toast for the foreseeable future.

Points: 0

#53 by Pat // Dec 30, 2022 - 11:55am

Yeah. No.

They didn't "rebuild" since they were never broken in the first place. The only starter on the OL who wasn't there back before '20 was Landon Dickerson, and adding a single offensive lineman isn't exactly "building the OL." Yes, they drafted Jurgens, too, but he's not really contributing this year, so he's certainly not part of a "rebuild."

And on defense, how did they "rebuild"? Same way the Bengals did in '21: by buying one. Reddick, Bradberry, and Gardner-Johnson were all offseason acquisitions, plus of course they leveraged themselves hard to keep Cox and Graham around another year. Plus of course Joseph and Suh are leveraged bought assets as well.

On both the DL and OL, the core players are guys who played in the Super Bowl or who were acquired in the years after. They didn't do a 1-year rebuild. They were bad in '20 because Wentz collapsed and the OL went through Gigantic Injury Hell in a year where they were already trying to thread the needle by going light at OL. But c'mon, which is more likely: they collapsed in 1 year and rebuilt in 1 year, or they were always a good team, bad $#!+ happened in '20, and then they swung for the fences in '22 and nailed it with Reddick, AJ Brown, and got lucky on Hurts?

They still are reloading the Super Bowl team, and it's going surprisingly well considering they've got such a small needle to thread - they've got the majority of the defense to replace next year (!!) plus Jurgens has to step up and fill huge shoes, and they need a player to be behind Lane Johnson as well.

The big advantage (obviously) is that they might have a high draft pick next year thanks to the Saints they can use on a CB, but it's still overall a small target. I mean, you've got to replace 4-5 All Pro level guys in the next, oh, year, and two first round draft picks nets you one on average.

Points: 1

#47 by OmahaChiefs13 // Dec 29, 2022 - 9:41pm

Mike, how long should a rebuild take? On average, assuming neither great luck or bad luck with draft picks.


I've seen team rebuild much faster than 5 years - if they hit on a QB. If not, they may have improved enough they find it hard to draft another good prospect. They either have to take a lesser prospect (which still works some of the time) or pay up to trade up (which fails a fair amount of the time).

The 2012-2013 Chiefs are actually a pretty decent comp here.

The 2012 Chiefs were 2-14. The 2013 Chiefs were in the playoffs, haven't had a losing season since, and have only missed the playoffs once since.

That 2012 team was notable for a last-place team still having 6 Pro Bowlers, 4 of which were on defense...clearly at least the skeleton of a talented D was in place.

During that offseason, the Chiefs obviously brought in a new coach (Reid), and new GM (Dorsey), as well as having the 1st overall pick and bringing in a new QB.

....except that pick was in a historically awful draft class (we took Eric Fisher), and the QB was so well known as a game-manager that FO named a stat after him. It's hardly like we brought in top-tier talent at the position.

But by every measure, that rebuild was successful after one year, simply by virtue of bringing in the right coach and having one talented side of the ball already in place (and by every measure, the 2022 Broncos defense is way better than the 2012-2013 Chiefs defense).

Yes, we had to eventually hit big on a QB to get over the hump, and do it while drafting at the end of the round every year...that worked out pretty well for us, but not every team will succeed with a swing that big. 

But people sometimes forget that we started our current division title streak 2 years before Mahomes became the starter.

I think Denver, or any rebuilding team, would point to an immediate string of winning seasons, WC berths, and eventual division titles as a successful rebuild. And it took a year.

Points: 0

#54 by Pat // Dec 30, 2022 - 12:05pm

....except that pick was in a historically awful draft class (we took Eric Fisher), and the QB was so well known as a game-manager that FO named a stat after him. It's hardly like we brought in top-tier talent at the position.

But by every measure, that rebuild was successful after one year,

I don't think that was a rebuild - I think that was discovering that Romeo Crennel was terrible. KC's offense went to "average"  (not surprising given the low talent level and Andy Reid) and the defense went to above-average, led by... pretty much the same guys who were there before.

That's part of the problem. People call the Eagles a "1-year rebuild" because they had a terrible year in '20... but they didn't rebuild. They didn't ditch guys and wholesale replace units. The best (long term) players on the team were mostly the best players on the team in '19, except for draft picks who developed and 1 or 2 free agent guys. That's not a rebuild, that's... development.

It just depends on what's wrong with the team. QBs are high leverage: replacing them can do a lot. Coaches are also high leverage. And you can also do what the Bengals, Eagles, and yes even the Patriots (in '21) did: just go out and buy a new defense.

Points: 0

#60 by theTDC // Dec 30, 2022 - 12:55pm

Watching Sean McVay take over for Jeff Fisher and then win 9 more games with largely the same roster really cemented into my mind that great coaching is probably more important even than the QB position. I'd guess that the truly great coaches probably add something like +4 wins over replacement level coaches per year.

Points: 0

#61 by Pat // Dec 30, 2022 - 1:13pm

 I'd guess that the truly great coaches probably add something like +4 wins over replacement level coaches per year.

I agree with the sentiment, but I'm not sure I'd put it exactly that way. I feel like it's more the reverse: terrible coaches probably subtract 4 wins over replacement level coaches per year.

I mean, the Rams are going to be a 5-7 (probably 5) win team this year, mainly because everything that could go wrong for them did. But they've still got 5 wins, and that's what competent coaching does - set a solid floor for a team. They're still going to be a pain in the neck to beat because schematically stuff is still going to happen that you didn't prepare for.

It's really, really hard for good coaches to drop under 4-5 wins a season, and I feel like most of the time those are snowball seasons: as in, you don't look bad at the midway point, but things go downhill in a hurry, which usually makes me suspect that's a team recognizing they're not a contender and not committing resources to getting better midseason. Reid's 2 worst seasons (outside of year 1) and McVay's season this year were both like this, for instance. (Of course a lot of times you also have early injury seasons, like Pittsburgh losing TJ Watt in week 1).

Points: 1

#68 by OmahaChiefs13 // Dec 30, 2022 - 10:52pm

Ok, cool....we can argue with what counts as a "rebuild" and what doesn't, but if we use your definition, Denver isn't in one either.

They need to replace a terrible coach and a terrible QB, and would likely be highly successful if they trotted out a better one of each, and exactly the same team otherwise.

...exactly like the 2012 Chiefs.

Points: 0

#69 by Pat // Dec 31, 2022 - 9:11am

Denver traded a lot of assets to get Wilson, plus you've got the contract cost. It's not a "replace Wilson with average starter, we're back to prior state." If you just replace Wilson, you're significantly worse off than before.

Basically, the '13 Chiefs weren't starting off in the negative. Abandoning Cassel cost them nothing, and they started with the top overall pick who went on to start 113 games for them. So they just had the acquisition cost for Alex Smith (2 second round picks).

The draft pick cost is probably the bigger hit: even if they nail a head coach pick, if they abandon Wilson they're like 2-3 years behind other NFL teams.

Points: 0

#73 by OmahaChiefs13 // Dec 31, 2022 - 5:33pm

Yes....we did get Eric Fisher, who played RT and was replacement level that first season, spent the next season-ish just very slightly below replacement level, and eventually became an above average LT.

And in this league, an above average LT isn't nothing, for sure....but I think you're overstating the advantage he brought in the 1-2 year period we're discussing; Fisher was not a big part of the 1-year turnaround.

If we want to talk about massively impactful building blocks, there was one in that 2013 draft, it just came in the 3rd round; a TE named Kelce who's turned out to be pretty good. But then again, he spent his rookie season on IR, and was still getting his feet under him in 2014. He also wasn't part of the timeframe we're discussing.

If we get far enough down into the weeds and consider every individual detail, sure....they're not an exact, 100% match. No two scenarios ever are.

But it's really difficult to argue that there are more differences than similarities unless one's argument lives on those margins.

Points: 0

#77 by Pat // Dec 31, 2022 - 10:37pm

Yes: Fisher and Kelce were more longer-term improvements, but that's exactly my point. So was Dee Ford in '13, who the Broncos would also be unable to draft since they burned that pick as well. Oh, and Kelce would've been gone, too, because they would've had to use resources to get a league-average QB to replace Wilson. Plus more, obviously, since Smith cost two seconds.

So what would kill a possible sudden improvement in '13 like the Chiefs had? That's the $107M dead hit from Wilson - I don't care who the coach is, or what QB is brought in, you will not win in the NFL with half the salary of the rest of the league. It just won't happen.

OK, so the '13 improvement is toast. And now they've lost Fisher and Kelce for '14. Which is 16 games of your LT and 862 yards from a TE on a 9-7 team. This isn't going well...

This is my point about the Broncos starting off negative. The Chiefs weren't in a terrible position in '12. They didn't have a QB, yes, but they had no commitment so they could switch with no cost, and obviously they had a near-full slate of draft picks so they could spend a few on a new QB.

If the Broncos need to move on from Wilson, it'll either be a multi-year rebuild or they'll have to hit hard on draft picks and cheap free agency.

Points: 1

#34 by swami // Dec 29, 2022 - 5:52pm

Just want to say I'd be happy with both more filler and more protein. I love your writing, am happy you're back here and paid up for a subscription simply to support you and the site going forward. Absolutely LOVE your work. Happy new year!

Points: 5

#37 by MrMan // Dec 29, 2022 - 7:21pm

Mike's my favorite NFL writer so I support this comment. 

Points: 2

#49 by BlueStarDude // Dec 30, 2022 - 7:52am

Agreed with this, though I still have not joined Plus (I am bothered by some of the technical aspects of the site, more now than in the past, but also two kids in college has the budget a bit tight).

For the longest time I felt like FO’s early years with Aaron, Mike, and MDS providing all the content was the pinnacle, with Mike’s writing standing out as better than anything anywhere else from a pure writing standpoint, but now with Mike rejoining to go along with the current run of Bryan and Vince (supplemented by Ben Muth’s contributions) this is probably the best it has been (nostalgia and Catholic Match Girl aside).

Points: 0

#52 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 30, 2022 - 11:39am

We should have had the popup video ads in the Catholic Match Girl era

Points: 1

#35 by MrMan // Dec 29, 2022 - 7:10pm

Haha.  The drunk at the end of the bar shouting "run the damn ball" provides a clearer, more measured, experienced voice than Emmanuel Acho. 

Points: 1

#39 by mehnsrea // Dec 29, 2022 - 7:33pm

this signing makes the Panthers a playoff team

I can assure you it does not.

Points: 1

#42 by liquidmuse3 // Dec 29, 2022 - 7:49pm

Tebow, etc etc. Still more fun than what the Broncos are doing now 😋

Points: 0

#48 by theslothook // Dec 29, 2022 - 10:36pm

Everyone's focusing on the contract and I get why. But the other angle is this. If the contract was voidable, would/should the Broncos cut him?

Consider less than one year ago, he was considered a top 5 QB, a possible HOFer, and with the Broncos, considered a sb contender. Within a year and without injury as an explanation, he is now what? Completely unsalvageable? 

I think, even in this idyllic circumstance of no contract albatross, it would still be too hasty to cut bait after one admittedly horrendous year. Perhaps age is the reason, but if I were the Broncos, I'd probably try my hand for another year and pray that the issues were mostly on the coaching staff.

Points: 1

#59 by Pat // Dec 30, 2022 - 12:51pm

I think you're kindof mixing things that are correlated. As in, Wilson's contract is structured in such a way that they are almost certainly going to give him '23 as well. If Wilson's contract was voidable, cutting him would be an option because it would mean they had less confidence in the first place.

I think the main reason that NFL fans (outside of the Broncos) are willing to cut bait on Wilson isn't really because of Wilson's performance, but Geno Smith's. And that information (that Geno Smith could put up solid numbers with the Seahawks under Carroll) wasn't information that the Broncos really had.

Points: 0

#63 by theTDC // Dec 30, 2022 - 2:43pm

Maybe, but I'm still skeptical of this. The Seahawks put up +12.7% offensive DVOA in 2021, and much worse when Geno Smith was the starter. Wilson almost certainly had +15% offensive DVOA or higher. We saw the direct comparison last year, and this year the Geno Smith hawks have a +5.9% offensive DVOA. 

It's possible that Wilson has truly jumped off a cliff with his play, but imagine what would happen if Wilson gets cut, only for him to return to top 10 QB form somewhere else. Right now the trade is on a shortlist of worst trades of all time. But if that happened after he was cut it would be unambiguously the worst move of all time. 

It saves the team nothing to cut him now, so it would be crazy to do that.

Points: 1

#65 by Pat // Dec 30, 2022 - 3:03pm

So let me be clear: I totally agree with you that it's nuts to cut Wilson after one year.

But when I point out Geno Smith, I'm not doing it to say that the Seahawks are just as good with Smith as they were with Wilson. The general media consensus was that Pete Carroll was holding Russell Wilson back. So now Geno Smith comes in and he's better than he ever was previously, Russell Wilson goes to Denver and is much worse. Which completely blows up that narrative - it doesn't look like Pete Carroll was holding Wilson back at all.

So now let's assume Carroll wasn't holding Wilson back, but let's discount Smith and just say "OK, Carroll was a net zero to Wilson." Except Russ was mostly not a top 10 QB in Seattle. He was an above average QB, sure. But not a top 10 QB. I'm pretty sure Derek Carr and Russell Wilson have roughly the same total DYAR from '17 to '21 (I actually think Carr has more - although that discounts rushing).

And if the Broncos did just basically trade picks for and sign Wilson to that contract when he's really just Derek Carr, that's... not great. If it were just the contract, that'd be one thing. But with the picks, Wilson really needs to be better than he was recently in Seattle, and that's... not looking likely.

But in terms of cutting him before '23, it's totally pointless because it does nothing. If I'm Denver though, I'm definitely thinking that Wilson needs to have a high-end passing year. It can't just be a "500-700 DYAR passing" type year (and really the rushing value I'm almost totally discounting at this point given his age).

Points: 1

#67 by KnotMe // Dec 30, 2022 - 6:55pm

Russ has only topped 1000 dyar twice I think (2015 and 19 but with pretty good dvoas in the 20s). I guess you hope he has one more good year in him and that gets you through

Points: 0

#72 by BroncFan07 // Dec 31, 2022 - 4:28pm

So, no matter what Denver does, I get to sit out the 2023 season too. Splendid. I think I'm in the minority of Denver fans, but I didn't think they were going to be that good this year. Never been a Russell Wilson fan. I thought if everything went well, they could improve 1 or 2 games and get to 8 or 9 wins this year while still being miles behind Kansas City. If it didn't, they'd be stuck on 7 wins or maybe 6.

I did not think it would be the nuclear biohazard it's become. But the first game of the season was a harbinger. Glad I didn't waste my time on them this year. 

Points: 0

#74 by coltsandrew // Dec 31, 2022 - 6:18pm

Denver's biggest problem is that they share the division with the Chiefs, which is like being the Jets from '03-'17. Since they aren't as good as the Chiefs, they pretty much have to swing for the fences every season, or what's the point? It's easy to criticize them, but the strategy for winning the division basically boils down to: get a coach/QB combo that's better than Reid and Mahomes. Nitpicking cap management is interesting, but mostly irrelevant since the biggest road block to being consistently competitive is playing in a division with one of the consistently best teams in the league.

Points: 1

#75 by Stendhal1 // Dec 31, 2022 - 7:33pm

A very smart post with a lot of merit but there’s more.  Yes the Broncos must compete with the talented, well-managed Chiefs, but so must the other teams in the division.  The Broncos’ specific issue, for several years, has been at QB.  They had to address that issue, and would have had to address it had they played in any division, and had to address it even before Mahomes arrived in KC (he was a rookie in 2017, two seasons after Payton had retired after a poor final year).  The other teams in the division didn’t face a comparable issue; the Chargers had Rivers then Herbert, and until now the Raiders didn’t feel any serious compulsion to replace Carr.  

After years of wandering in the wilderness, the Broncos made a bold, praised-at-the-time move for Russell Wilson.  I simply don’t know how to explain Wilson’s poor performance this year.  Putting aside the injury recovery games, he was good last year (see 2022 FOA).   He’s fallen off a cliff statistically, and looks lost.  I don’t buy the battling with coaches view of his career because among other things he said good things about his final Seahawks OC, Shane Waldron.  Something is up and that’s the issue Denver needs to figure out, full stop.  Is 2022 a fluke or a new bad reality?

Having drafted or traded for Wilson in 5 out of 7 fantasy football seasons before mercifully passing on his return this year, one season of which was a league winner, all I can guess is:

* Wilson’s unique skill set, to my nonexpert opinion, was as a resourceful scrambler and runner.  He was a neo Fran Tarkenton (Will A, does that make sense?) as a run-pass-extend the play threat.  But he mostly cut back on his running, setting an upturn in 2020 to the side — last year he was under 200 yards.  He hasn’t figured out a true replacement formula other than to be long range bomber, greatly aided in Seattle by the awesome DK Metcalf and the steady excellence of Tyler Lockett.  That was not enough to carry to the Rockies given the coaching and lesser receivers (even though they are not terrible).

* Could altitude be a factor?  To be fair his stats this year are not that different home vs. away other than yards per pass, and he’s only played 5 home games.

* This one is kinda Occam’s Razor.  Quarterbacks — football players — peak and decline at different ages.   The Bradys and Rodgers have skewed perception…the norm is that it’s not unusual for a QB to decline in or by his age 34 season.  Heck, most QBs don’t even reach that age as a solid to very good starter, which I think Wilson was at least as good as (sic).  Wilson’s season is an extreme case of this….he hit the wall after 10 seasons of >40 average sacks.  I’m sure many of you can come up with comparables …. looking quickly at this, Eli Manning fell to a 40 QBR cliff at age 35 after a poor age 32 QBR season within 5 pts of Wilson this year.  Eli played a different style but I’ll go out on a limb and predict a comparable career arc — Eli had two bounce back years at ages 33 and 34, then fell to what turned out to be a permanent end of career shelf at age 35.

Points: 2

#78 by theslothook // Dec 31, 2022 - 11:22pm

I'm genuinely surprised by this. I would have assumed Broncos fans were optimistic to the moon with this trade.

I really really think hindsight is coloring all of this because Wilson has the dubious distinction of being one of the worst QBs in the league while simultaneously being one the most expensive QBs in the league. 

What i hinted at above still holds, I think there is still uncertainty about what Wilson is. People seem to be predisposed to the idea that he's terrible and will remain terrible for the Broncos until he is cut and a cap crater is all that remains.

People point to Wilson's uneven numbers and suggest he's never been more than a Derek Carr, but I think that view ignores the fact that Wilson has had a season way above Derek Carr ever produced and has had periods of play that were MVP worthy. I think there's always going to be something tantalizing about someone finally getting that play consistently out of Wilson, at least until his athleticism still remains. If it's gone, then he's toast but it's not clear at this second I'd that's true.

Points: 0

#79 by Stendhal1 // Jan 01, 2023 - 1:59am

Just for fun, and the record, I looked up contemporaneous opinions on the hiring of Nathaniel Hackett, as a follow up to my account of contemporaneous (and almost universally very positive) opinions on the Wilson trade.  (That’s in the article reporting Hackett’s firing.)

CBS Sports, The Draft Network, Athlon Sports, On3 (Steve Samron), Prime Time Sports Talk, Sean Pendergast (Houston Press):  B

Walter Football:  A+.  Yes they did.  But the site also published an article with a D grade unless the Broncos got Rodgers, in which case it would be an A.  (The Rodgers connection was almost universally mentioned.)

SB Nation:  C

Justin Bell (Clutch Points):  C- (albeit higher than Mike McDaniel)

Jeremy Fowler, ESPN:  B+

Dan Graziano, ESPN+:  C+

Chris Thomas (The Game Haus):  A-


Points: 2

#81 by theslothook // Jan 01, 2023 - 2:41am

I'm a noted curmudgeon who repeats ad nauseum how often people walk back comments ex post with such vigor and firmness. 

Ex post narration and lack of circumspection is how no one ever learns anything.

Points: 1

#82 by Stendhal1 // Jan 01, 2023 - 1:25pm

??  What could this possibly mean?  Are you talking about yourself, which I think understates your contributions at times?  It’s certainly not about me.  In the above post and the other post it references (and a few others like it ), I document football experts’ then-contemporaneous, not after the fact, assessments of trades or hires, which utterly rules out any “walk back” element; with the main point being, as I wrote in the referenced post, that the authors were not dumb at the time and that the point is that no one knows anything … i.e., that the prediction enterprise is difficult (a point which itself works towards advancing knowledge). I present no inkling of “I knew better than you” nor any curmudgeon element whatsoever, and anyone who may believe otherwise is wrong and is misunderstanding my view.   I’m reporting information largely as a service.  When I present my own opinions, I acknowledge error or a lack of an answer, see for example my speculation on Russell Wilson’s woes.

Points: 0

#84 by theslothook // Jan 01, 2023 - 11:01pm

Sorry. My statement was purely riffing on your excellent posts about how much of a trap we are to hindsight. It was really meant as a general statement and a warning to everyone, including to myself.

I didn't realize that my comment came off as nasty. It was absolutely not intended that way!

Points: 0

#85 by Pat // Jan 02, 2023 - 10:11pm

I don't understand - if you look at that list of "grades" on the hiring, they're... pretty much solidly negative, or luke-warm at best. I mean, if someone hands me a report card with mostly Bs, Cs, a D and a single A... yeah, I'm very much not happy. Especially because the A's probably like, gym or something.

Wilson having such a bad year was surprising, and I don't think many sportswriters are claiming they saw that coming. But if they're coming out and saying "yeah, I didn't think Hackett was going to work out" they're not exactly in the minority.

Points: 0

#80 by Stendhal1 // Jan 01, 2023 - 2:15am



Points: 0

#83 by ebmccalla // Jan 01, 2023 - 10:10pm


Points: 0

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