Broncos acquiring New York Jets QB Zach Wilson in pick swap

Denver Broncos linebacker Nik Bonitto (42) sacks New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) in the first quarter at Empower Field at Mile High

Broncos Unveil New Quarterback Strategy with Zach Wilson Trade

The Denver Broncos have consistently affirmed their strategic approach to managing their quarterback lineup. This was evident when they decided to release Russell Wilson, a bold move made just two years following his high-profile acquisition via a blockbuster trade. The organization reiterated their plan during the offseason, opting to bypass free agency for quarterbacks despite numerous veteran players signing with other teams, some even accepting backup roles.

The Broncos’ strategy was further discussed last week during a media session with head coach Sean Payton and general manager George Paton. The contours of their approach became clearer this Monday when the team announced acquiring Zach Wilson in a trade with the New York Jets. Zach Wilson, who was the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, experienced a challenging three seasons in New York. The Jets had previously informed him that they would seek a trade during the offseason.

Broncos acquiring New York Jets QB Zach Wilson
Broncos acquiring New York Jets QB Zach Wilson

In this deal, the Broncos have agreed to share Zach Wilson’s salary for the upcoming season with the Jets. At 24 years old, Wilson now joins Jarrett Stidham on the Broncos’ quarterback roster. Although Payton and Paton have decided not to comment publicly until after the draft’s first round this Thursday, the nature of the trade—a swap of a sixth-round pick for a seventh-round one—provides Denver with additional options. This move strategically positions the Broncos, giving them flexibility depending on how the draft unfolds, particularly on Thursday.

Denver Broncos’ Strategic Quarterback Moves

Wilson’s performance on the field has been underwhelming, with a completion rate of just 57% and a concerning ratio of 25 interceptions to 23 touchdown passes. This makes him a prime candidate for improvement under new management. The Broncos, led by Coach Payton, have plans to intensify the quarterback competition, including both Stidham and Wilson in the mix.

However, the strategic dilemma for the Broncos extends beyond just enhancing their quarterback roster. Their position in the upcoming draft complicates their ability to select a top-tier quarterback. Many other teams with urgent quarterback needs are positioned higher in the draft order. Given that the Broncos have not had a first-round pick since 2021—due to the acquisition of Russell Wilson—they lack the resources to trade up effectively.

The draft projections suggest that as many as four quarterbacks might be chosen before the Broncos’ turn at the 12th pick. Should this scenario unfold, the Broncos would need to decide whether to select what would be the fifth quarterback of the draft with their 12th pick. Historically, picking a fifth quarterback so early has been rare, with the Chicago Bears’ selection of Cade McNown at No. 12 in 1999 being a notable example, though his career was brief, spanning just 25 games.

The recent trade acquisition of Zach Wilson indicates that the Broncos are preparing for various scenarios in the first round of the draft. It seems they might be skeptical about the value of the fourth or fifth quarterback on their board being a worthy pick at number 12, reflecting a cautious and calculated approach to their draft strategy.

Broncos at a Crossroads Strategic Decisions Await at the 12th Pick

The Denver Broncos are embracing a flexible approach as they head into the NFL draft with the 12th overall pick. Last week, head coach Sean Payton openly questioned the necessity of drafting a quarterback, despite the apparent need. “Do we have to draft a quarterback?” Payton mused, emphasizing the importance of finding the right fit rather than making a forced decision. He highlighted the complexity of draft decisions, noting how having a clearer picture of other teams’ choices could simplify their strategy.

Denver’s recent history underscores their predicament, having missed the playoffs for eight consecutive years under five different head coaches and with a dozen quarterbacks at the helm. General Manager George Paton stressed the importance of not rushing their first-round pick. “What you don’t want to do is force it,” Paton advised, pointing out the risk of repeating past mistakes if they don’t select wisely. The goal is to secure an impactful player, regardless of position—be it a quarterback, tackle, or receiver.

Currently, the team boasts only two of their own first-round selections on the roster: cornerback Pat Surtain II and tackle Garett Bolles. This scarcity underlines the team’s dire need for game-changing talent across all positions. While there’s considerable pressure to acquire a top quarterback, Paton and his team acknowledge that any highly graded player fitting their number 12 slot is essential, given their broad array of needs.

Zach Wilson’s recent integration into the team doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility of drafting a rookie quarterback. His presence is seen as a low-cost insurance policy, allowing the Broncos some flexibility amidst the uncertainties of a potentially tumultuous first round. This strategic ambiguity reflects Denver’s broader commitment to rebuilding their team thoughtfully and effectively, aiming to return to playoff contention.