Chubb trade’s real meaning: Actions have consequences

Roughly six months ago, General Manager George Paton sent three players and five draft choices to Seattle in return for Russell Wilson and a fourth-round pick.

This left Denver without a first- or second-round draft choice until 2025 but was deemed worth it to acquire the franchise quarterback the Broncos have lacked since Peyton Manning retired after winning the half-century Super Bowl. 

Immediately there was talk of another Lombardi Trophy. But it hasn’t worked out that way; not even close. 

And now, former first-round pick Bradley Chubb is gone—a delayed part of the price for Wilson.

Here’s why I say that:

Trading Chubb restores the Broncos as a player in the first round of the draft next April. But that move actually increases the cost of acquiring Wilson. Effectively, it’s now Noah Fant (the 20th player drafted in 2019), Drew Lock (42nd in ’19), defensive line anchor Shelby Harris, the 2024 number one and two seconds—plus Chubb, in place of that other first (2023). Consider the swap of fifth and fourth an afterthought.

Yes, the Broncos also came away from the Chubb deal with another running back and a swap of lower draft choices. But make no mistake: this was all about recouping a pick in the first round, and the price was Chubb.

In my view, trading Chubb so that the 2023 draft cupboard isn’t quite so bare is throwing good money after bad.

What would Broncos Country have thought of that package last March?

Denver made Chubb the fifth player taken in the 2018 draft—opting for him, it should be noted, over Josh Allen of nearby Wyoming, now a leading contender for the 2022 NFL Most Valuable Player Award as the quarterback of one of mid-season’s Super Bowl favorites, Buffalo. 

At the time, John Elway was in charge of football operations for the Broncos, and he called Chubb the best defensive player in that draft. Chubb backed up Elway’s assessment with a 12-sack rookie year but missed more games than he played the last two years because of injuries. This season was looking more like his first.

If there was another factor in dealing Chubb, it also can be connected to Russell Wilson, whom Paton signed to a mega-extension before Denver’s new savior played a down for the Broncos. 

Chubb was approaching free agency and was going to require a mega deal of his own to remain in Denver. Miami, in fact, shelled out $110 million to extend Chubb for five years soon after the trade. 

How many nine-figure contracts can one team carry, even if the owners are Walmart billionaires?

This all may sound like a “knock” on Wilson. But that’s not the point.

This is about decisions and their consequences.

In this case, the decisions were mortgaging the Broncos’ future then writing that big check. Trading Chubb is only the beginning of the consequences unless Wilson returns to form, which, of course, is not out of the question.

But if he doesn’t, it will be very difficult to build a winner with three fewer high-draft picks and less financial flexibility in the immediate future.

We won’t know until next January where the Broncos land in the 2023 draft order, but it’s a good bet that this year’s first-round pick sent to Seattle will be higher than the one harvested for Chubb (San Francisco’s via Miami). That’s another consequence.

Wilson has worked hard to live up to expectations but, for a variety of reasons, has been barely better than Teddy Bridgewater last season. (Wilson’s former team, Seattle, meanwhile, is in first place in its division at 6-3 with journeyman Geno Smith at quarterback—well ahead of the 49ers (second at 4-4) and the defending Super Bowl champion Rams, who currently occupy third place with three wins and five losses).

Coming out of the bye week, and 10 days after the NFL trade deadline, the Broncos have the same record as the Rams. The offense, under Wilson’s leadership, has been underwhelming.

After eight games last season, the Broncos’ record was 4-4; they finished 7-10. The year before, they were 3-5 en route to 5-11. In 2019 they were 2-6 then won five of eight to go 7-9.

Denver has nine games left to turn the season around: at Tennessee this Sunday; four other road games (Carolina, the Ravens, the Rams and the Chiefs); and four more home games (Raiders, Chiefs, Arizona and Chargers).

How many wins do you see among those nine? Fewer now that Chubb has been subtracted from the defense?

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.