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Sports >  Seattle Seahawks

Analysis: As Russell Wilson’s struggles continue, frustration in Denver mounts

Nov. 17, 2022 Updated Thu., Nov. 17, 2022 at 8:31 p.m.

The Denver Broncos' Russell Wilson (3) and Baron Browning (56) leave the field following a 19-16 loss in overtime against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on Oct. 17, 2022, in Inglewood, California.  (Tribune News Service)
The Denver Broncos' Russell Wilson (3) and Baron Browning (56) leave the field following a 19-16 loss in overtime against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on Oct. 17, 2022, in Inglewood, California. (Tribune News Service)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The Russell Wilson-Denver Broncos honeymoon has long since ended.

But is the marriage already beginning to fray?

It’s a topic that will interest Seattle sports fans as long as Wilson is in Denver, but more so now. The Seahawks own Denver’s first-round draft pick in 2023 after the trade in March that sent the longtime Seattle star quarterback to Denver.

The NFL draft order is determined by teams’ records from the previous season. So the worse the Broncos finish in 2022, the higher the Seahawks would pick in 2023.

And in the wake of another disappointing Denver loss Sunday, which ended with Wilson throwing an interception, came an accusation that seemed to signal that Broncos fans – and maybe even some in the organization – have become increasingly frustrated and are questioning where things may be headed.

On Wednesday, former Broncos offensive lineman Tyler Polumbus – who played for Seattle in 2010-11 – said on Altitude Sports Radio Denver that Wilson at times is confusing his offensive teammates by calling audibles with code words from his days in Seattle.

“Russ is losing his mind out there,” Polumbus said during a discussion of Wilson’s struggles with the Broncos. “He’s at the line of scrimmage using audibles from the Seahawks. The guys don’t know the audibles. He’s using code words that the guys don’t know what the code words are.

“And they are coming back to the huddle and they are like, ‘Dude, what are you saying up there? We don’t know what the play, we don’t know what that is?’ He’s losing his mind right now.”

That comment came after Scott Hastings, a former NBA player and longtime sports-talk host, said he has heard of “a disconnect between Russ and (Denver coach Nathaniel) Hackett from the start. … I heard that they also, that it’s legit, that Russ has these sets of plays he wants to run, and Hackett wants him to run these sets of plays, and right now there is no compromise and that Russ is audibling out of too many calls.”

Maybe as newsworthy as the veracity of the accusations – and certainly, they are juicy – is that they are being made.

Somebody, or some bodies, is/are is feeding Polumbus and Hastings that information with Denver’s season, and the perception of the Wilson trade, having gone more sideways than anyone could have imagined.

Just past the halfway point of Wilson’s first season in Denver, the Broncos are stuck with the NFL’s worst offense in terms of points scored – the only stat that really matters – and with a 3-6 record.

Wilson is mired in by far his worst season, with just seven touchdown passes in eight games – a TD percentage of just 2.6% after he averaged 6.2% in is 10 years with Seattle – and a QB rating of 81.4 compared with his Seattle rating of 101.8.

He’s also rushed for just 15.1 yards per game, about half his Seattle average of 29.7.

That Seattle is 6-4 and has a surprisingly efficient offense led by Geno Smith – even with Sunday’s loss to the Buccaneers in Munich – adds intrigue.

Was it the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll propping up Wilson all those years and not the other way around? Or were the Seahawks that prescient in seeing that Wilson was in decline – he turns 34 on Nov. 29 – and able to pull one over on Denver?

Those aren’t questions easily answered yet.

But that they are being asked is evidence of what a disaster this season has been for Denver.

The Broncos’ offense has struggled, and they are wasting a historically great season by their defense, which ranks first in the NFL in fewest points allowed and second in fewest yards allowed.

And as noted, for this season, that can be a huge benefit for the Seahawks, who already are smiling giddily from the early returns of the Wilson deal.

Seattle received tight end Noah Fant, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock, and first- and second-round picks in 2022 and 2023. Seattle used those 2022 picks on left tackle Charles Cross – who has played all but two offensive snaps for the Seahawks, appearing on the verge of becoming a foundational piece of the offense for years – and outside linebacker Boye Mafe.

And in the gift that will keep on giving, if the season ended today Seattle would have the seventh overall pick. Seattle also gets Denver’s pick in the second round – which currently would be 43rd overall.

Combined with the Seahawks’ picks – which as of today would be Nos. 22 and 54 – and they are in prime position to make another draft killing as they did in 2022.

Then there’s the contract Seattle didn’t want to give Wilson. But the Broncos did before he’d played a game for them – a five-year extension through the 2028 season paying him up to $296 million overall (when including the two years already on the deal) with $124 million guaranteed.

“I want to be here for a long time,” Wilson said during a celebratory news conference Sept. 1 to announce the extension. “I believe this is a marriage, and I want to be here for a long time. My goal is to be able to finish my career here.”

For now, he must overcome a start rockier than anyone could have envisioned.

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