The Denver Broncos are Super Bowl contenders following the Russell Wilson trade

NFC quarterback Russel Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks (3) passes the ball against the AFC during the third quarter during the Pro Bowl football game at Allegiant Stadium.
Feb 6, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; NFC quarterback Russel Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks (3) passes the ball against the AFC during the third quarter during the Pro Bowl football game at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos pulled off one of the biggest trades in NFL history when they acquired Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks, but is it enough to make them Super Bowl contenders overnight?

Let’s look.

Stacked offensive arsenal finally gifted competent QB and play-caller

The quarterback is the most important member of any NFL organization, and the reason why is because their own greatness elevates those around them more than any other individual inside the franchise.

Looking out at the landscape of the modern, offensive-focused NFL suggests that your head coach and offensive play-caller are the next most important pieces of the puzzle.

In those departments, the Broncos are going from Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater to Russell Wilson; and from Pat Shurmur and Vic Fangio to the fiery and successful Nathaniel Hackett.

Upgrades of that magnitude are sure to have a sizable impact on the team at any position, but we can’t view these positions in a vacuum.

Wilson’s mobility has faded at this point in his career, but he’s still sure to make the offensive line look better than it did when tasked with protecting the immobile Bridgewater.

Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick have been good receivers the last two years, while Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler have struggled to hit their stride in the NFL. Competent quarterback play and an offensive mind that has a better understanding of how to use those weapons, will help make everyone better.

Down the stretch of the 2021 season, Denver’s run game went from being one of the league’s most efficient to one of its least efficient, and a big reason why was the lack of respect defenses were giving the passing attack. They just loaded the box and dared Bridgewater and Lock to attack through the air. Teams won’t be able to adopt that strategy with Wilson and Hackett now installed.

In short, the offense has always been tremendously talented and that hasn’t been hard to see. Now those talented pieces are in a position to be properly utilized, making them much more productive and valuable, and making the offense much more deadly. In an offense-first AFC, the Broncos have the weaponry to go toe-to-toe with most anyone now.

Defense remains talented and should look rejuvenated in 2022

Let’s not get it twisted now. Vic Fangio is a defensive genius and his loss will hurt the Broncos’ defense in some ways. With that said, it’s also hard to deny that he alienated a majority of players on Denver’s defense during his tenure, that he was difficult to play for, and that at times he over-complicated the defense.

Some of those issues reared their head early in the season, as multiple blown coverages led to easy long touchdowns in several games, namely against the Raiders and Ravens.

Getting in a more player-friendly coach like Ejiro Evero, who also appears less likely to rigidly cling to Fangio’s conservative nature, could be just what the defense needed.

Now, those gains might be canceled out by some regression in the redzone, a critical aspect of defense in which Fangio’s squads have consistently excelled, but the change in chemistry and culture could be worth that regression.

Plus, the defense remains a very talented unit. They need depth at safety, but Caden Sterns and Justin Simmons should be a high-end tandem. They’re in desperate need of a nickel-cornerback, but their outside cornerback group looks really solid with Patrick Surtain, Ronald Darby, and Michael Ojemudia set to return. The front-seven will require more work, but Dre’Mont Jones, Bradley Chubb, and Baron Browning is an exciting foundation to build around.

With the offense as talented as it is, this defense is plenty good enough to keep the Broncos in Super Bowl contention.

Broncos gave up very little

Almost any conversation surrounding the Broncos’ plans to acquire a superstar veteran quarterback over the past year included the point that the Broncos could potentially give up so much that the trade ultimately wouldn’t be worth what they were getting in return, as it might remove them from contention.

That is definitely not the case here.

The Broncos gave up shockingly little.

They had to give up the ninth overall selection in this year’s draft, which hurts, but was expected. Plus, this year is not the year you want a top-10 pick, as the talent at the top of the draft is pretty shaky. This year’s draft shines in its depth.

They also had to give up their first-round pick next year, but that selection will likely be in the 20s (and boy does that feel good to write). That same logic also applies to the 2023 second-round pick they traded.

Outside of that, they gave up a second-round pick this year, traded up from the fifth round to the fourth round, and gave up Drew Lock, Shelby Harris and Noah Fant.

On top of not being a great quarterback, Lock is backup on any team that involves Russell Wilson, so that’s an easy pill to swallow.

Harris used to be a defensive star, but last season might have been his worst in orange and blue, and offloading his overpriced contract could be viewed as a net-positive if you’re feeling pessimistic about the chances of Harris’ play bouncing back.

Last is Fant, who had a lot to gain from being in Hackett’s system, but is also coming off his worst NFL season. It was common to see social media discussions during the 2021 season about Fant’s motor and drive because it visibly appeared to be lackluster throughout several of Denver’s games.

That’s a pretty small price for a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback, and it’s nowhere near enough to remove the Broncos from contention.

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