SEATTLE – In terms of low points, those Week 1 boos were about 100 feet below sea level. It seemed inconceivable that Russell Wilson would ever walk out to jeers at Lumen Field, but it happened two Septembers ago, and few who witnessed it will forget it.
It got lower, though. The public mocking Wilson endured a few weeks into last season – when it was reported he was doing high knees on the team plane as teammates slept – turned the once venerated signal caller into a laughingstock.
And yet, it got lower. By January, the man who forced his way out of Seattle had become the scorn of two fan bases, as the Denver Broncos finished 5-12 in Wilson’s first year as their starting quarterback. Oh, and this just months after he signed an extension that would pay him north of $240 million.
And now, this. The once implausible nadir – where a healthy Wilson is benched in Week 17 despite Denver still being mathematically alive in the playoff hunt.
That was the big news Wednesday, with coach Sean Payton saying the Broncos will start Jarrett Stidham at quarterback Sunday vs. the Chargers, with Wilson dressing as QB2. This is not necessarily the Broncos saying Stidham is better than Wilson, who is having a decent season. There is, after all, a financial incentive to sit Russell, who would net $37 million in bonus money in March if he cannot pass a physical.
What the Broncos are saying, though, is that they’d like the fiscal flexibility to move on from Wilson if possible. He simply wasn’t good enough, and his Denver days are likely done.
It can’t get much more unceremonious for the 35-year-old who once seemed like a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Seahawks may have been skeptical of his ability to maintain his Pro Bowl form when they traded him before last season, but not even they could have envisioned this.
At the NFL combine last winter, Hawks general manager John Schneider admitted he was surprised by Wilson’s struggles in 2022. And though he improved this season – as his 98.0 passer rating (seventh in the NFL) can attest – there were still too many mediocre moments, too many suspect statistics to keep him off the bench.
One example is the sacks. Wilson has taken 45 of them this season, the fourth most in the NFL. You may recall how he gave an interview a couple of years back in which he said he was “frustrated with getting hit too much” in Seattle. That didn’t change in Denver, where he has taken 100 sacks in 30 games. Perhaps that’s why his QBR – sometimes considered a more accurate representation of a quarterback’s efficiency than passer rating – is 21st in the league.
He’s not exactly torching defenses with his arm, either, as his middling 204.7 passing yards per game (18th in NFL) indicate. And then there were games such as the one Sunday, in which the Broncos scored just seven points through the first three quarters in a loss to the Patriots, who likely squashed any chance Denver had to make the playoffs.
These flat starts were sparse in Seattle during Wilson’s prime years, when he repeatedly entered his name into the NFL MVP conversation. But when you’re in your mid-30s and have relied on your mobility for most of your career, it’s nearly impossible to meet your heyday standards.
I don’t know if this is the end of the Russell Wilson era entirely. There certainly seem to be teams that would be better off with him behind center than their current starter. But it also seemed like the Broncos’ offense would improve markedly when he arrived in 2022. It didn’t. It so clearly didn’t that the team looks ready to take a major financial hit to move on from him.
So how should fans up here feel? Well, that’s up to them. Perhaps some are abundantly satisfied that the man who demanded a trade from a team that reached the playoffs last season – and looks likely go back this season – has fallen in such fashion. Perhaps others feel pity for a quarterback who has been put through the media ringer over the past two seasons and continues to descend.
Personally, I lean toward the latter, but I will rarely scold sports hate (distinct from actual hate) and understand why Seattleites continue to curse Russell’s name.
Once the most revered active athlete in the Emerald City, Wilson’s career has hit a new low. That didn’t seem possible too long ago, but when it comes to Russell’s plunge, so little of it did.