For the better part of the last 12 weeks, as the Denver Broncos have struggled, many have placed the lion’s share of the blame on head coach Nathaniel Hackett, albeit with some of it sprinkled around to others, but mostly on Hackett. A close second would be Russell Wilson, the $245 million man who signed a mega contract with the Denver Broncos before playing a snap for them.
The offseason was full of a lot of promises from both Hackett and Wilson. Hackett vowed that the Broncos would score a lot of points and the acquisition of Wilson seemingly came with a promise of playoff relevance, or at least just relevance in the NFL in general. After 12 weeks of complete and utter incompetence offensively, the calls for Nathaniel Hackett to be fired among the fan base have grown louder and louder, and many in Broncos Country are regretting the trade for Russell Wilson in the first place.
It’s been widely anticipated at this point in time for head coach Nathaniel Hackett to become the team’s scapegoat for their offensive struggles, although that’s really watering down a pretty big issue in the first place. Hackett has shown some substantial flaws of his own as a rookie head coach and there are plenty of things you could point to as fireable offenses that don’t exactly include Russell Wilson.
Now, after listening to a segment on The Insiders with Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, it seems like it’s Russell Wilson that is losing supporters within the Broncos organization, not Nathaniel Hackett. In fact, that is precisely what Pelissero said.
The full video, linked above, is absolutely worth watching for Broncos fans. Not in a good way, but in a, “you have to hear this for the correct perspective” kind of way. Pelissero and Garafolo are two of the best in the business when it comes to getting inside information, and Pelissero is a particularly prominent Broncos source because of how chummy he is with Broncos GM George Paton. Pelissero is a Minnesota native and he has long had a relationship with Paton dating back to Paton’s time with the Vikings.
What he says regarding the Denver Broncos is not just worth listening to, you might as well be hearing it from the team themselves.
If you thought it was bad in Denver before now, it’s worse than you think. Mike Purcell screaming at Russell Wilson on the sideline of Sunday’s game was more of a boiling-over than it was a random outburst. According to Pelissero, Russell Wilson is losing at least some of the locker room. He and Garafolo referenced a number of specific things that teammates have not exactly taken well to, dating back to the offseason and Wilson showing up to training camp wearing his own jersey.
They said that the Broncos were aware this is the kind of person Wilson was, they did their homework, and that they were comfortable bringing Wilson in because they felt like his personality would click with the positivity of Nathaniel Hackett, and worst-case scenario, they would get good QB play out of Russ and the team would excel.
Unfortunately, the worst-case scenario is where we’re at today, which is with the Broncos having the worst offensive output of any NFL team since the year 2000. This is by far the worst offense in Denver Broncos history, at least as far as most of the fan base can even actually recall. Teammates are looking at Russ and his $57 million cash payout in 2022, his $124 million completely guaranteed on his new contract, and the way that he’s playing. They are wondering what in the world is going on. They are seeing Russ continue to put forth the celebrity and persona that he always has off the field, staying consistent with his superstardom and getting paid a ton of money, while not performing and holding up his end of the bargain.
I don’t think Russell Wilson is a bad person or a snake, by any means. When his team is winning, nobody sees any of his quirks as more than just quirks. But in Denver, Wilson is now coming under fire because he’s not playing well, he’s clearly not working well with Nathaniel Hackett (which is not all Hackett’s fault, either), and the team has to be wondering what in the world they got themselves into here. The way Pelissero and Garafolo laid out the situation was perfect. In Seattle, Wilson was not the foremost leader in the locker room early on, it was Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch.
Later on, he assumed the leadership role by default, and by that time, young players were coming in and seeing Wilson hoisting the Lombardi all over the walls of the facility, and they deferred to him as the guy. It was a fully clean slate in Denver for Wilson, and it’s gone horribly. His consistency is admirable, but there’s something to be said about adaptation in leadership as well and it feels like Mike Purcell’s sideline explosion at Russell Wilson was more about pent-up frustration with not being able to be honest with Wilson or be straight-up with him.
Where do the Denver Broncos go from here with Russell Wilson?
At the end of the season, here’s what’s likely to play out. Either the Broncos are going to be very confident they can pay the necessary amount of money to get the right coach in place to coach up Russell Wilson, or they are going to stick with Nathaniel Hackett for another year because the job is not going to be overly attractive compared to other jobs out there. That’s the reality of the situation right now.
Although it’s not overly fair to Nathaniel Hackett, the path to success for the Broncos with Russell Wilson probably doesn’t have him in the picture. If George Paton is the GM the Broncos’ new ownership is going to trust going forward, then a head coach with experience and proven quarterback development skills is probably on deck. But what if the ownership group doesn’t see Paton as the GM of the future of this team?
This is where things get super complicated. Let’s just say, for the moment, that the ownership group does roll with Paton again this offseason. It’s hard to see them letting Paton pick the next head coach of the team if Paton is on a short leash. If Paton is on a short leash and the Broncos feel like they can get the best head coach candidate by also giving that coach GM powers, then that might be the course of action — a clean sweep of GM and head coach, resetting with people in place who aren’t tied to Wilson who could make the best decisions for the team going forward, whether or not those decisions ultimately include Wilson.
Financially, the Broncos are tied to Wilson for the next couple of seasons. He will be the team’s QB1 in 2023 no matter what. But the Broncos could eat a ton of dead money after that if they find the right “replacement” by 2024. And in 2023, the Broncos need to have contingencies in place because living with this reality is simply not acceptable.
Ultimately, the only way this gets turned around in the short term is for Russell Wilson to turn things around. Nobody expected him to crash and burn this hard in Denver, even if people started to see a decline in his play the last couple of years. This is a reality nobody saw coming and so the Broncos are having to really adjust on the fly. If Wilson is losing the locker room, that’s a huge problem and would require longer-term fixes than the Broncos can afford to make based on their investment in him.
The Denver Broncos simply cannot go into the 2023 season with the same type of backup QB situation as they currently have here in 2022 to Russell Wilson.
As of right now, Broncos Country can do nothing but hope things start to get turned around this coming weekend in Baltimore, but nobody should be holding their breath.