ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos acquired Russell Wilson in March. The idea of him wearing orange is not new. For six months, his presence has resonated, making relevant again a franchise that owns five straight losing seasons and a six-year playoff absence.
But as the hours tick away, RussellMania is about to go beyond print, text and practice when he makes his Broncos debut at Seattle on Monday night. We are all starting to wrap our head around what it means — from Colorado to Washington.
In Denver, Wilson is considered a quarterback with Tim Tebow's character and Peyton Manning's ability. He lives life like a bumper sticker — "Winning is a lifestyle," he reminds us. His
positivity has been embraced like a long lost friend.
The Broncos distanced themselves from 11 underwhelming starting quarterbacks since Manning retired for a nine-time Pro Bowler with a Hall of Fame resume and championship legacy aspirations.
In Seattle, there is a contrasting view of Wilson, making it likely he returns as a villain. In the latest recap of the divorce, ESPN writer Brady Henderson detailed how a dysfunctional situation led to the star's exit.
The issues are known. Coach Pete Carroll's treatment of Wilson left hyper-competitive defensive players bristling that he was not held accountable to the same standard early in his career. When Wilson received his first big contract, the team never returned to championship glory as Carroll preferred a run-based offense. Wilson made clear after the 2020 season he wanted a better offensive line, and sought to take fewer hits. The Seahawks began to see a future without Wilson, believing after the 2021 season that he was a declining player with decreased mobility that they did not want to pay handsomely again.
The Broncos awarded Wilson with a five-year, $245 million contract extension last week with $124 million guaranteed in the first three years and $77 million paid out by this March.
Wilson said Thursday afternoon he "will forever have love in my heart for Seattle" and that he was focused on the game and not how he'll be received.
And he said he had no doubts in himself and his abilities to be one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.
"I believe in my talent and who I am. I'm one of the best in the world," Wilson said. "I don't think of anything other than that. My focus is always on winning."
#Broncos @DangeRussWilson said Seattle did explore trading him before last season. “I believe in my talent and who I am. I’m one of the best in the world. I don’t think of anything other than that. My focus is always on winning.” #Denver7— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) September 8, 2022
So as you let it all sink in, here comes the season. Can an older Wilson play like the Wilson of old?
History remains on his side. He is 33 — turns 34 in November — and playing during a time when defenses can't hit quarterbacks high, low or late. As he transitions to more pocket throws, there is reason to believe Wilson can be a Bronco for life — he is under contract until he's 40 — or the very least play at an elite level the next three-to-four years.
Perhaps no player is under more pressure than Wilson this season. He wanted this, and now all eyes are on him.
"But he sees pressure as a privilege," left guard Dalton Risner said. "He embraces it."
Hard to blame him given how well Wilson has performed in big games. According to Broncos research, Wilson boasts the highest winning percentage in prime-time games since 2012 of any quarterback with at least 20 starts. And he starts the season like Usain Bolt.
He is 3-0 in his last three openers with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. He is 7-3 in his last 10 September games with 29 touchdowns and one pick.
Wilson is accurate, and unlike Denver's previous 11 starters, he achieves a balance of taking care of the ball and taking chances. Only Tom Brady (324) and Aaron Rodgers (317) have more passing touchdowns over the past 10 seasons than Wilson (292). What's more, no quarterback has posted as many 100.0 or higher passer ratings as Wilson (83) during that same time span.
The Broncos have not had a quarterback capable of posting big numbers like this since Manning's 2014 season.
And he goes against a Seattle defense he knows well. He practiced against the group everyday. The Seahawks ranked 31st against the pass last season, yielding 265.5 yards per game. They ranked 18th in takeaways and 22nd in sacks with 34. Even with a first-time head coach in Nathaniel Hackett, who will serve as the playcaller, the Broncos should have a clear advantage.
However, Carroll is well-versed in Wilson's strengths and weaknesses. Some analysts I have spoken with believe Carroll will let Russ cook, focusing on stopping the run and seeing if Wilson can beat Seattle by throwing 35-plus times.
“I do have as much information as you can have. I’ve probably never known a player any closer than knowing Russ, his quarterbacking, and his playing and his mentality and all of that," Carroll told Seattle reporters earlier this week. "He knows me, too. He knows us. So, we’ll see what happens.”
The game will be broadcast on Denver7 with our pregame and postgame shows. In other words, it's receiving the Stanley Cup Final treatment on our channel. Without Wilson as a Bronco, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman would not be in Seattle making their Monday night debut. It's a big deal, acknowledged Hackett.
According to TickPick, the average purchase price of a ticket for Monday night is $492, making it the most expensive Seahawks home game on record. The get-in price is $183.
The Wilson storyline, simply put, is not going anywhere. On both sides, there are plenty of opinions. And for Wilson, enormous motivation.