ENGLEWOOD — John Elway set the standard at the position for the Broncos. Peyton Manning re-introduced excellence, bringing to life championship dreams with his eye-opening statistics and demanding leadership. He inspired Broncos Country. The moment he walked out the door, the Broncos, though they did not know it at the time, lost national relevance.
The Broncos have used 11 starting quarterbacks since Manning retired following Super Bowl 50. Two produced a winning record — Trevor Siemian (13-11) and Brett Rypien (1-0). Paxton Lynch was not the answer. Case Keenum flopped, and Joe Flacco was definitely not in his prime. Drew Lock could not secure a future in Denver and Teddy Bridgewater became a captain, but played like a valuable backup.
The local nightmare is over. After one season in charge, general manager George Paton realized what Broncos Country knew three years ago — this team has no chance to compete in the AFC in general and the AFC West specifically without a star quarterback.
So Paton, after two months of stealth conversations, acquired Russell Wilson for defensive end Shelby Harris, tight end Noah Fant, Lock, two first-round picks, two second-round picks and a fifth-round selection.
No more delusions of adequacy. No more quarterback competitions, even-stevens and practicing incompletions.
Wilson changes everything. And he will be paired with his first offensive-minded coach in Nathaniel Hackett.
This feels like Manning 2.0. Wilson carries higher expectations than Peyton because he arrives at age 33 and healthy, compared to Manning, who wasn't sure he would ever throw a football with accuracy again following multiple neck surgeries.
Wilson helped orchestrate his trade to Denver. He had a no-trade clause and chose the Broncos.
"Once I knew the trade was going to happen, I wanted to go to a city that wants to win, I wanted to go to a team that wants to win and I wanted to go to a city that knows how to win," Wilson said in June. "And all those things were checked off a box here in Denver. I think we've got a chance."
Manning, who is quickly become a close friend and asset for Wilson, provided the blueprint. Following it will be daunting. Manning took over a good team looking to take the next step. The current Broncos have missed the playoffs six consecutive seasons and posted five straight losing records for the first time since 1963-72.
And the climb back includes six games against the AFC West, which is considered a premier division with the best quarterbacks (Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr).
Wilson embraces the pressure.
"I want to play against the best. I don’t fear anything, so I’m looking forward to it,” Wilson said.
There's no denying that Wilson represents a significant upgrade. He is on a Hall of Fame track, a modern-day Roger Staubach. Don't listen to those who spout the statistic that he's never received an MVP vote. The football voting is archaic because you can only vote for one player, not 10 like in baseball. He would have finished in the top five multiple times. Comparing his stats since Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos' quarterbacks should warm the hearts of fans like a cabin fire.
Since 2016, Wilson owns a 58-35-1 record with 186 touchdowns, 53 interceptions and a 65.2% completion rate. He has made the Pro Bowl five straight seasons. During that same stretch, the Broncos quarterbacks — there have been 11 starters since Manning retired — are 39-58 with 115 touchdowns, 90 interceptions and a 61% completion rate. There have been zero Pro Bowl appearances.
So for those not in the mood to crunch the numbers, the snapshot: Wilson has 71 more touchdowns, 37 fewer interceptions and 2,213 additional yards.
Now, the onus is on Wilson to blend his strengths with Hackett's offense. Or vice versa. Wilson is like a shark — no wasted movement. He has an office at the Broncos' facility, and takes his helmet and shoulder pads on his travels around the world. His work ethic will never be questioned. His status as a top quarterback, however, has been after he posted his first losing season in 2021 and missed three games with a finger injury.
In two separate polls of NFL scouts and executives in The Athletic and ESPN, Wilson ranked eighth overall, leaving him behind Mahomes and Herbert in his own division.
Wilson does not have a chip on his shoulder, he has the entire tube of Pringles.
He wanted this move to the Broncos. The journey to relevancy begins Wednesday with a packed berm watching every move.
“I came here for one reason, and it’s to win. And that’s what I believe in,” Wilson said, leaving little doubt about his intent in Denver. “Broncos Country, let’s ride.”