Russell Wilson turned 34 years old in late November.
It’s not an age in which a quarterback should be completely falling off. That’s why the Broncos traded multiple draft picks and players for Wilson and gave him a five-year extension worth more than $240 million.
The trade and the contract might end up ranking among the worst in NFL history. It’s looking like Wilson’s name will be forever cursed in Colorado for setting the franchise back several years.
Sunday’s 51-14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams was a low moment for the Broncos in a season that has been miserable since Week 1. Wilson threw interceptions on each of the Broncos’ first two series and both were completely on the quarterback. On one he overthrew a pass terribly, the other he threw it right to linebacker Bobby Wagner over the middle.
It was 17-0 shortly after that second interception.
If you want to know what it looks like when a team has completely given up on the season and wants it to be over, rewatch the Broncos’ effort on Christmas afternoon. A defense that had been good got ripped to shreds by the Rams’ JV offense. The Rams had 31 points at halftime. They had scored 31 in an entire game once this season. The Rams had 39 points in quarterback Baker Mayfield’s first two games for them combined. And Denver was drawing dead practically from the start of the game because the offense couldn’t score. The Broncos trailed 41-6 before the offense scored its first touchdown.
Denver’s Nathaniel Hackett has had one of the worst rookie seasons of any head coach in NFL history, and it would infuriate the Broncos fan base if he’s back for a second season. But firing Hackett might not solve the Wilson problem, which is glaring.
Russell Wilson continues to struggle
Wilson’s start to the game was so bad, even Patrick Star was cracking jokes on the Nickelodeon broadcast.
At one point in the third quarter, CBS’ Tracy Wolfson reported that backup quarterback Brett Rypien had words with the offensive line on the sideline, and the offensive line got heated with him. As if the Broncos needed to add “total dysfunction on the sideline” to their list of woes.
Wilson has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL this season. If you grade on the curve of how much money and resources was spent, Wilson has been the worst. When the Broncos acquired him, everyone in Denver was excited. The post-Peyton Manning quarterback blues were finally over. The Broncos would be a contender.
Maybe the extreme blues at quarterback — their 2016-21 starters were Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Drew Lock, Brandon Allen, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien and Teddy Bridgewater — led to some desperate decisions. Either way, the Hackett hire, the trade and Wilson’s contract look like an anchor that will drag the Broncos down for a while.
It’s really bad in Denver and no matter how many times CBS’ Tony Romo tried to spin the Broncos’ future as being bright, it’s not. Unless a new head coach can fix Wilson, because that’s what it will take.
Broncos have embarrassing loss
The Broncos’ defense didn’t cover itself in glory either. That group has been good most of the season. On Sunday the Broncos made Mayfield look like a superstar.
It’s also hard to blame the Broncos’ defensive players. It has to be hard to maintain an edge when you know the offense isn’t going to help at all.
Mayfield was dealing. He was 18-of-20 for 185 yards and two touchdowns by halftime. Other than a few magical minutes in his Rams debut against the Las Vegas Raiders, Mayfield hasn’t been good all season. The Broncos made him look great. Mayfield set a Rams single-game record for completion percentage, beating Kurt Warner’s old mark. Mayfield finished 24-of-28 for 230 yards. He looked better than Wilson has at any point this season.
It’s not like the Broncos were going to come back. Wilson threw another awful interception early in the third quarter, blindly flinging a ball deep to the end zone where he had no receiver open. Jalen Ramsey had an easy interception. The interceptions stand out but just about every play from Wilson was awful, a replay of his issues all season. He held the ball too long and took six sacks. He misfired on too many passes that a $240 million quarterback has to make. With 6:16 left, after Wilson had finally led a touchdown drive, Rypien came into the game. Rypien threw a pick-six on his first possession.
Even if there were signs of Wilson’s play slipping last season, a collapse like this was impossible to predict. There aren’t many quarterbacks through NFL history who have gone from an elite level to totally inept at Wilson’s age. Joe Namath’s regrettable season with the Los Angeles Rams came at age 34. That might be the best comparison to what we’re seeing with Wilson, and that was 45 years ago.
It’s not a one-year problem either. Even if Hackett or general manager George Paton gets fired, that doesn’t fix the Wilson issue. Whoever would take over as coach or GM would be starting in a huge hole that isn’t going away soon.