Is Russell Wilson a Hall of Famer? Assessing his future, legacy after Broncos flameout


The list of NFL teams with strong interest in Russell Wilson appears small.

Wilson’s aspirations remain large.

“For me, it’s about winning,” the quarterback recently told the “I Am Athlete” podcast. “Over the next five years, I want to win two (Super Bowls).”

Two questions linger in the gap between how Wilson sees himself and how others see him.

What does the immediate future hold for this 35-year-old former star? And, what is the state of Wilson’s legacy, including his Hall of Fame candidacy, after a two-year stretch in which the Seattle Seahawks traded him and the Denver Broncos released him?

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Wilson, cut by the Broncos on Monday, will play for his fourth head coach in four seasons if his career continues in 2024.

Options in free agency

The Broncos owe Wilson $39 million guaranteed in 2024, minus whatever he earns from another team. That increases the chances a team could sign Wilson for relatively cheap, but if that happens, the quarterback’s new team could more easily move on from him as well. That would be a new dynamic for Wilson, whose previous contracts have given him security and leverage.

Oddsmakers have favored the Pittsburgh Steelers, Las Vegas Raiders and Atlanta Falcons as Wilson’s next teams, but there are reasons to question whether Wilson projects as the primary starter in those spots.

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On the surface, Wilson could fit well in new Steelers offensive coordinator Arthur Smith’s offense, much the way Ryan Tannehill did when Smith was his coordinator in Tennessee (2019-20). Like Tannehill, Wilson could plausibly function efficiently in a run-oriented offense.

But Mike DeFabo, a Steelers beat writer for The Athletic, reported Monday that the team is not interested in signing Wilson. Steelers general manager Omar Khan said at the combine that he wants 2022 first-round pick Kenny Pickett and backup Mason Rudolph to return as the top two quarterbacks. Rudolph could leave in free agency. Pickett remains under contract.

A pairing between the Raiders and Wilson also appears better on the surface than on a deeper level. When Wilson’s tenure with Seattle was winding down, his agent listed the Raiders, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears as preferred destinations for his client.

Wilson could fit with a Raiders team that wants to win with defense, a strong ground game and an efficient, explosive pass offense, but pairing him with new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy could raise questions. Getsy worked closely with former Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett when both were in Green Bay. Hackett’s negative experience with Wilson in Denver could inform Getsy’s thinking, which could affect how the Raiders proceed.

The key for Wilson in Las Vegas could be appealing directly to owner Mark Davis, who is in a better position to land him now than when the team was financially committed to former starter Derek Carr.

The Falcons could make the most sense for Wilson whether or not they target a quarterback in the first round of the draft. They hold the eighth pick and might need to acquire an earlier selection to land one of the top college prospects at the position, depending on how the draft unfolds. They could sign Wilson and use that early pick for another position, or they could see Wilson as a bridge to whatever quarterback they select. They also could be in the market for a different veteran.

Tampa Bay or Minnesota could become options if their veteran starters leave in free agency.

Wilson’s aspirational talk about winning multiple Super Bowls suggests he does not yet see himself as a bridge starter or backup. If he did open his mind to such a role, additional destinations become plausible. Carolina comes to mind. The Panthers’ new coach, Dave Canales, was part of the coaching staff that won with Wilson in Seattle. Wilson could, at least in theory, show the way for Bryce Young, another quarterback of shorter stature.

“There aren’t many options (for Wilson),” an NFL exec from a team with an established quarterback said. “Once it all settles, if you want a stopgap starter, he could make sense.”

Good luck finding relevant performance comps for Wilson.

In 2023, he became the only qualifying quarterback over the past decade to finish a season with a passer rating higher than 95 (98.0) while averaging negative EPA per pass play (-0.05). This resulted from Broncos coach Sean Payton implementing a conservative pass offense (high completion rate, low interception rate) while Wilson continued taking sacks at a high rate (9.1 percent) without producing as many explosive pass gains (14.8 percent).

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Other oddities, including Wilson’s contract situation and his perceived lack of self-awareness, combine to make this a special case.

About that Hall of Fame legacy

Wilson’s legacy has taken big hits. Fifty coaches and executives unanimously voted him into the NFL’s top tier of quarterbacks in 2020. Forty of 50 voters placed him there a year later. Wilson has subsequently plummeted into Tier 3. His production has been declining since before the Seahawks traded him to Denver in March 2022. His teams haven’t reached the championship round of the postseason since the 2014 season. The way Wilson departed Seattle, at one point asking ownership to fire his coach and general manager, did not help.

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Wilson also has drawn criticism from high-profile analysts, including ESPN’s Damien Woody regarding Wilson’s comments about winning two Super Bowls over the next five seasons.

The passage of time will assist in evaluating Wilson’s full career without as much recency bias. It’s a good thing for Wilson and the process that the Hall of Fame requires players to be retired for five seasons before becoming eligible for consideration.

He was unquestionably a star and a key component of the Seahawks’ decade-long run of success under former coach Pete Carroll. His sharp decline introduces narratives Wilson might have to overcome: Wilson never won anything of consequence without an elite defense; Seattle actually improved on offense after replacing Wilson with Geno Smith; Carroll and Payton, two potential Hall of Fame coaches, seemed eager to part with him.

Now is not the time to fully process those narratives. We are better served viewing Wilson’s candidacy using bigger-picture markers.

Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value metric provides one objective avenue. The more productive a quarterback is relative to his peers, and the more successful his team and offense are, the higher his AV will be. It’s a general guide for comparing players.

Using AV, we can compare Wilson to the last 10 quarterbacks enshrined in Canton as modern-era candidates: Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, Kurt Warner, Dan Marino, John Elway, Brett Favre, Jim Kelly, Warren Moon and Troy Aikman. Of those 10, all but Warner were first-ballot selections (Warner needed three tries because of the gap between his Super Bowl tenures with the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals).

The table below stacks these 10 Hall of Famers by AV per start. This elevates a few players with shorter careers (Young, Warner), emphasizing quality. We can also see where each quarterback placed in MVP balloting over the years; for example, the “1,1,2,4” next to Young’s name reflects that he won MVP honors twice, finished second another time and fourth another time.

We’ll break out Wilson separately, then combine all the quarterbacks at the end.

Last 10 modern-era HOF QBs

QB MVP Finishes SB W-L AV/GS

1,1,2,4

1-0

1.17

1,1,1,1,1,2,2,2,3,5

2-2

1.02

1,1,2,3,5,6

4-0

1.01

1,1,7

1-1

0.97

1,3,3

0-1

0.90

1,2,4,5

2-3

0.89

1,1,1,2,2,3,4

1-1

0.87

2,5

0-4

0.83

3,5,6

0-0

0.80

5

3-0

0.73

Next, we examine the same information for Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. These quarterbacks will surely earn enshrinement on the first ballot once they become eligible.

Presumed first-ballot HOF QBs

QB MVP Finishes SB W-L AV/GS

1,1,1,1,5

1-0

1.03

1,1,1,2,2,2,2,3,3,5

7-3

0.98

2,2,2,2

1-0

0.97

Below, we compare Wilson to some of the quarterbacks who could become Hall finalists in the future but are not surefire, first-ballot selections. Wilson heads this list. His AV per start also stacks up well against the averages for the past 10 quarterbacks enshrined. It suggests the last couple of seasons should not disqualify Wilson from a general production standpoint.

Potential HOF QBs

QB MVP Finishes SB W-L AV/GS

N/A

1-1

0.95

3,6

0-0

0.91

1

0-1

0.90

N/A

2-1

0.84

8

1-0

0.82

N/A

2-0

0.72

We also see that Wilson, like Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, never received even one MVP vote. (In 2022, the league changed the voting process, with voters submitting their top five candidates instead of only their top candidate. This explains why Matthew Stafford finished eighth in 2023 with two fourth-place votes.)

None of this settles any debates. It does cut through Wilson’s recent downturn to consider a fuller body of work. He does belong in the conversation purely from a production standpoint.

The final table below includes all the quarterbacks in the three tables above. Instead of considering AV per start, which we have already seen, I’ve taken the median AV for each quarterback’s 10 best AV seasons. This might appeal to those who think a Hall of Famer should dominate for a decade.

Median AV from 10 best seasons

The idea that Wilson might win two Super Bowls over the next five seasons does seem farcical. So is the idea that Wilson has blown his chances for the Hall of Fame. There’s a fuller discussion to be had, one that needs to wait until the time is right.

(Photo: RJ Sangosti / MediaNews Group / The Denver Post via Getty Images)





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