Grading the Russell Wilson Trade. Just how well did George Paton do?

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) reacts during NFC practice at the Las Vegas Ballpark.
Feb 4, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) reacts during NFC practice at the Las Vegas Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

George Paton and Denver Broncos just pulled off one of the most historic trades in NFL history, by acquiring a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback with plenty of years left in the tank.

But just how good of a bargain did Paton strike? Let’s take a look.

The Draft Capital

Broncos receive: 2022 fourth-round pick
Seahawks receive: 2022 first-round pick(No. 9 overall), 2023 first-round pick, 2022 second-round pick (No. 40 overall), 2023 second-round pick, 2022 fifth-round pick

The Broncos made out like bandits, but the most painful part of the trade for the George Paton is certainly having to part with multiple first- and second-round draft picks, along with a fifth-rounder.

At the NFL Scouting Combine George Paton discussed how important he believes having 10 picks is.

“Going into the draft, we always want more picks obviously, 10 [picks]. We always want 10 going into each draft,” George Paton told the media this past week. “The reason I say that is [No.] 1, you have more darts, and you have a better chance to hit the bullseye. But it also gives you a lot of flexibility on draft day. You saw what we did last draft. We moved up in the second [round] to get [RB] Javonte [Williams]. We were in the third round, and we moved back. I think we moved back twice in the third round to get those picks back for [RB] Javonte [Williams]. We were still able to get those players we coveted—[G/C Quinn] Meinerz, [ILB Baron] Browning, those types. I just think the more picks you have [on] draft day gives you a lot of flexibility to do whatever you want.”

Following the Wilson trade, the Broncos are down to seven picks in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Now, having a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback installed is obviously more important than those three picks, but it does still hurt.

Outside of quarterback, the Broncos’ top needs are on the edge and at offensive tackle. Both of those needs are premiere positions, and premiere positions go early in the draft. With Denver not picking until No. 64 overall, it’s going to be tough to address those positions via the draft.

All that said, it’s incredible the Broncos gave up as little as they did. From the outside looking in, it felt like they would have to give up three first-round picks, or at least multiple third-round picks on top of giving up multiple first- and second-round picks. Instead, Denver only had to give up four top-64 selections, and managed to get compensation out of Seattle, in the form of a trade-up from the fifth round into the fourth round.

Plus, as immaculate as George Paton’s first NFL Draft as a general manager was, it should be noted that luck plays a large factor in the draft, and Paton was a part of many troubling first-round selections during his time in Minnesota.

The last first-round pick he was a part of in Minnesota was the selection of cornerback Jeff Gladney, who just two years into his NFL career, appears to be out of the league. From 2015 to 2019, the Vikings made four first-round picks, consisting of Trae Waynes, Laquon Treadwell, Mike Hughes and Garrett Bradbury. Only Bradbury is still with the team, and even he has been a relative disappointment.

It’s remarkable the Broncos gave up so little in terms of draft capital.

Grade: A

The Players

Broncos receive: Russell Wilson, QB
Seahawks receive: Drew Lock, QB; Shelby Harris, IDL; Noah Fant, TE

Considering how little draft capital Denver gave up, relative to expectations, one might assume that they gave up a bevy of valuable players. However, that also wasn’t the case.

First, the Broncos gave up Drew Lock, which is practically nothing. Even the most fervent Drew Lock believer would have to acknowledge that he’s a backup on any team that involves Russell Wilson. Therefore, giving him up in the deal for Wilson only makes sense. He proved this season he wasn’t especially comfortable in a backup role, as we didn’t see him showcase quality play until he became the starter down the stretch.

Second of all is Shelby Harris. Harris is a very good player and was arguably Denver’s best special-teamer in 2021 thanks to his several blocked kicks, but he also just posted his worst season on defense during his tenure with the Broncos and is fairly expensive. Despite being age 31 and coming off one of his lesser seasons, he was due approximately $8 million in 2022.

Not only that, but most hypothetical trade proposals floated by the media involved the Broncos trading young defensive star Dre’Mont Jones, who is both cheaper and better than Harris at this point in their respective careers. With that in mind, giving up Harris feels like highway robbery.

Last but not least, is tight end Noah Fant. Fant remains an incredible athlete at the tight end position, but it should be noted he’s coming off the worst season of his NFL career and hasn’t looked like a top-20 pick since early in the 2020 campaign. Not only that but there was a persistent conversation among Broncos fans after this year’s games, wondering what was wrong with Fant. His motor didn’t appear to be running as hot as it had in past seasons and he visibly shied away from contact.

Fant’s tremendous upside still exists, but his development was tracking in the wrong direction.

What did the Broncos get in return?

A future Hall-of-Famer at the game’s most important position, which also happened to be the greatest position of need for Denver.

Now, Wilson’s last two years and past awkward fits in west-coast-style offenses should lead to some trepidation from Broncos Country, but even the very worst version of Wilson is a ridiculous upgrade on the parade of dogshit that has traveled through the quarterback position in Denver over the past several seasons.

Grade: A+

Overall

It is truly remarkable how good of a trade this is for the Denver Broncos.

They gave up very little in terms of draft capital, relative to what the expected cost was for one of the best quarterbacks of the 21st century, and didn’t give up a single player they were tied to after the 2022 season, as Harris’ contract was easily voidable after this year and Fant’s fifth-year option hadn’t been picked up yet.

In other words, even if the Wilson trade goes horribly wrong, and his play drops off a proverbial cliff, the Broncos didn’t give up enough for it to really hurt them long term.

The biggest gamble involved with this trade is the very lucrative contract extension Wilson is almost certain to receive, but just looking at who and what was exchanged in this deal, it’s hard to imagine a realistic scenario in which Paton gives up any less.

Slam-dunk, grand-slam, whatever you want to call it, Paton just pulled off one of the greatest trades in league history.

Grade: A+

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