Some of the Russell Wilson criticism has been grossly unfair

The new Netflix series “Quarterback” is must-see TV for any football fan. It provides unprecedented access to three NFL QBs throughout last season, offering a glimpse of what it takes to play at the highest level.

Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins and Marcus Mariota are the focal points, which offers a great blend of different types of quarterbacks. Mahomes is a future Hall of Famer. Cousins is a very good starter. Mariota is trying to show that he can still be a full-time QB in the NFL.

It’s fascinating. It’s riveting. It’s eye-opening. It’s well worth spending the time to get through all eight episodes.

But that’s not all the show offers. “Quarterback” also provides a reality check for Broncos Country, showing that way too many people were unfair in their criticism of Russell Wilson last season.

Yes, he didn’t play well for most of his first season in Denver; the team’s disappointing 5-12 record is proof of that fact. And admittedly, Wilson didn’t do himself any favors with some of his corny antics, with “Let’s ride!” being at the top of the list.

But the fact that he has a personal trainer, QB coach, chef and other non-Broncos personnel to help him get prepared for the season, survive the trials and tribulations of a 17-game grind, and hone his craft shouldn’t have been criticized. To do so was grossly unfair.

As “Quarterback” shows, that’s the norm in the NFL. It’s what players have to do in order to stay in the league, let alone excel. They all do it. At least the ones that take their job seriously.

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The show makes this abundantly clear. All three of the QBs featured have an assortment of people to help them. And they aren’t apologetic about it.

Mahomes has his own private coach and personal trainer. He works with them throughout the season, arguably valuing their input as much as anyone within the Chiefs organization. Cousins has chiropractors and physical therapists that come to his home to perform body maintenance on him during the season. Mariota hired a childhood friend to be his private chef in order to make sure he’s eating properly.

None of those are bad things. Nobody has suggested that they are. So why did Wilson receive so much criticism for taking a very similar approach?

To some extent, it’s because it didn’t work. Winning makes everything okay. Losing brings everything into question. So when the Broncos played poorly, with Wilson struggling in the process, it was natural for people to look at his process.

But it’d be dishonest to suggest that personality didn’t play a factor in the criticism. Wilson rubs people the wrong way, with his ultra-positive schtick, so they were ready to pounce as soon as he stumbled. It didn’t matter if he was doing the right thing; they were still going to rip it to shreds.

And that’s unfair.

That’s not to say that all of the criticism dished in Wilson’s direction was out of bounds. He was arguably overly involved in the team’s offensive game planning. But that’s more on the coaches for allowing it to happen than it’s on the quarterback. It’s not his job to rein himself in; that was on Nathaniel Hackett and company, a group that was in way over their heads during their first ill-fated season in Denver.

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He also shouldn’t have separated himself from the team by having an office on the second floor of the team’s facility. Even if the rationale for it was good, allowing him to put in extra hours of film study, it was a bad look. It created a double standard that was ultimately unhealthy for team chemistry, or least had the chance to fester into one.

Wilson also made a bad strategic decision when he decided to bulk up last season. Heading into his second decade in the league, the QB thought he needed to be bigger in order to withstand the pounding that comes with playing his position. He also believed he had to morph into a pocket passer to grow as a player. This proved incorrect. Instead, a heavier Wilson was an ineffective quarterback, as it took away his superpower – his ability to escape.

To his credit, Wilson has fixed the things that he did wrong last year. He doesn’t have an office with the coaches anymore and he’s clearly lighter heading into this season. It’s not a sin to be wrong; stubbornly sticking with a bad plan is, however. Wilson saw the error of his ways and adjusted.

But to criticize him for having people around him to help with his training, diet, football knowledge, etc. is going too far. It borders on the quarterback being evaluated unfairly.

Paxton Lynch famously flamed out in Denver because he wasn’t willing to put in the work necessary to be an NFL QB. That’s worthy of criticism. But to also be upset by the opposite reeks of being impossible to please.

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In today’s NFL, where the Collective Bargaining Agreement limits how much time players can spend in the team facility, the great ones have to find ways to get work in when they’re away from the facility. It’s now the norm, not the exception.

Wilson has to be better in 2023. His career with the Broncos, and perhaps his legacy, depends on it. And everyone should be watching him closely from the first day of training camp until the final game of the season.

But it should be about football. It should be about his play.

To criticize Wilson for going the extra mile to be a better player simply isn’t right. And as “Quarterback” shows, it suggests a complete lack of understanding of how the NFL works in 2023.


Follow @jamesmerilatt

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