On Tuesday, the NFL world — and Kansas City Chiefs fans — were shocked when the Denver Broncos traded to acquire nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks.
It wasn't surprising that Denver was seeking a veteran quarterback. Ever since Peyton Manning's retirement following the 2015 season, the Broncos have been in the quarterback wilderness. No fewer than six signal-callers — some of them free-agent veterans, others drafted by Denver — have started for the team. None have been particularly effective. Since Super Bowl 50, the Broncos have compiled a record of just 39-58 — including an 0-12 record against the Chiefs — as their quarterbacks combined for a passer rating of just 81.1.
Instead, it was surprising that Wilson — instead of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers — was the player the Broncos traded to acquire. Ever since Rodgers began expressing his displeasure with his situation a year ago, Denver has been the odds-on favorite to trade for the four-time NFL MVP. But just hours before the Wilson trade made headlines, news broke that the 38-year-old quarterback would not only stay with the Packers through 2022 but would also sign a four-year deal reported to be worth $200 million.
So the Broncos have now given up their first and second-round picks and both 2022 and 2023 — along with 2022's fifth-round pick, quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant and defensive end Shelby Harris — to get Wilson and Seattle's fourth-round pick in April. And that's the price Denver paid for what appears to be their second choice.
Make no mistake: this move makes the Broncos better. It's not hard to imagine a number of recent Kansas City-Denver matchups in which Wilson's presence could have turned defeat into victory. It's absolutely fair to say that by itself, this trade has substantially shifted the balance of power in the AFC West.
Still... there are reasons for Chiefs fans to see this as a positive development. Here are five of them.
1. Iron sharpens iron
The Chiefs have now won six consecutive AFC West championships. Kansas City has appeared in four straight AFC championship games — all of them at home — winning two of them. And the team has split its two Super Bowl appearances during these streaks.
In the last four seasons, the Chiefs are 20-4 against the rest of the division. There's no doubt that the team's dominance against its division opponents — which under the NFL's scheduling formula, account for six of every team's games each season — has been one of the primary reasons that during that period, Kansas City has entered the postseason with nothing less than the AFC's second seed.
With a better Broncos team, getting that kind of postseason placement is bound to be more difficult. But in each of the last two seasons, the Super Bowl winner has not been one of the top two seeds in their conference. It's possible to argue that with stronger competition during the regular season, the Chiefs will be better positioned to succeed in the postseason. For fans who have been arguing that nothing less than a Super Bowl victory represents a successful campaign, this could be welcome news.
2. The Chiefs won't ever be the New England Patriots
The Patriots are the owners of what is unquestionably the league's most successful dynasty. It's entirely reasonable to credit head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady for a large portion of the team's two-decade run — one that included six Super Bowl victories.
But it's also true that during most of those seasons, New England played against a very poor division. From 2001-2019 — when the Patriots led the NFL with a regular-season record of 232-72 — not a single AFC East team had a winning record. The New York Jets ranked 21st with a record of 139-165, the Miami Dolphins were 23rd at 138-166, and the Buffalo Bills were 26th with a 129-175 record.
Considering the strong performances Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has turned in during his first two seasons — and Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr's resurgence during that same time — Wilson's addition to the Broncos makes it very unlikely that whatever success the Chiefs will achieve in the coming years will ever be characterized as being the result of facing poor competition in their division.
The road ahead will be more difficult — but in what must now be considered one of the NFL's strongest divisions, the team that prevails each season will command respect.
3. The Chiefs will still have the most primetime games
Ever since his 2018 MVP season — his first as the team's starter — Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been considered one of the league's top stars. During that period, the Chiefs have appeared in 22 primetime games — compared to 15 in the four years before that and only nine from 2010 through 2013. In the last four seasons, only the Packers have appeared in as many primetime games — and with Russell Wilson at quarterback, the Seahawks appeared in 19.
So while Broncos fans are rejoicing over the team's acquisition, it's probably nothing compared to the excitement the NFL's television partners are feeling. Over the coming seasons, every AFC West matchup will likely be seen as an important, exciting game — and those involving Mahomes and Wilson will top that list. Kansas City's games will remain among those most likely to be played before national audiences.
Of course, this is a double-edged sword. As Pete Sweeney and I often mention during the Arrowhead Pride "Editors Show" podcast, these games are especially difficult for those in the media to cover. Many fans find them less convenient to watch — either in person or on television. But even for all of that, most of us — including Pete and myself — would prefer it to the alternative: the many seasons in which our favorite team was considered an afterthought. In the years to come, that's not going to be a problem.
4. More Chiefs games will be really good
This is another double-edged sword. If your idea of an ideal Chiefs game is one in which Kansas City dominates its opponent, Wilson's arrival in Denver will likely reduce the number of such games; it certainly seems less likely that the Chiefs will run off another winning streak like they now own against the Broncos!
But for many fans, the best football games are the ones that are most competitive. With the quarterbacks now populating the AFC West, there should be at least six Chiefs games every season — plus three more against opponents who finished with the same division record in the previous season — that should be competitive games. If that's what you like to see on Sunday afternoons (or on Sunday, Monday or Thursday nights), this is a good thing.
5. This won't last very long
But even if Kansas City has less overall success during the Broncos' Russell Wilson Era, it won't last forever.
After the 36-year-old Peyton Manning arrived in Denver in 2012, he played just four seasons for the Broncos. He chose to retire after getting his second career Super Bowl victory — after suffering not only a nagging injury but also what can be described as the most humiliating loss of his career: 2015's 29-13 home loss to the Chiefs in Week 10. It was the first of 13 straight games the Chiefs have won against Denver.
Like Manning in 2012, the 33-year-old Wilson already has a Super Bowl win. If he and the Broncos manage another, he might also feel that it is time to hang it up. But that might not be as easy to do as Colorado-area NFL fans are now imagining. Head coach Vic Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell — architects of the NFL's third-ranked scoring defense in 2021 — have been replaced by two rookies in their new positions: head coach Nathaniel Hackett and defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. Whether the Broncos will field such an effective defense in 2022 remains to be seen.
In addition, the capital Denver has expended — both in draft picks and players — is quite significant. While it's arguably not too high a price to pay for a quarterback of Wilson's caliber, it's something the Broncos didn't have to do when they signed in Manning in 2012; he was a free agent who had been released by the Indianapolis Colts after missing the entire 2011 season with a neck injury. The Broncos have plenty of offensive weapons — but if they don't work out under their new quarterback, it's going to be more challenging to find new ones.
So while there's every reason to expect the Broncos will be more competitive with Wilson under center, there's no assurance that he'll be with the team for a long time. But even if he plays another six years to age 39, the 32-year-old Mahomes will still be Kansas City's quarterback.