The Denver Broncos will start anew in many ways in 2022. They have new ownership, an incoming coaching staff and a fresh face of the franchise in quarterback Russell Wilson.
Rob Walton, the Walmart heir, bought the Broncos for $4.65 billion, and his daughter, Carrie Walton Penner, and son-in-law, Greg Penner, will become the "top two day-to-day Broncos bosses," per 9News' Mike Klis.
What could be the first order of business on the football side? Well, the Broncos' new ownership group should buy into head coach Nathaniel Hackett's plan to "Let Russ Cook."
Somehow, critics (many of them Seattle Seahawks fans and rival AFC West fanbases) have talked themselves into the thought that Wilson belongs in the category of washed-up NFL stars.
Okay, now let's get back to reality.
In September, Wilson will be ready to put on a Broncos jersey like an apron and chop up defenses like the most talented restaurant cook in Denver. He hears the doubters, and Mr. Unlimited will use that motivation to bounce back from a statistically down season.
While different people have varying interpretations of what it means to "Let Russ Cook," which is something Seahawks fan Zach Whitman started in response to Seattle's 24-22 Wild Card loss to the Dallas Cowboys in 2019, Hackett summed it up succinctly.
When asked about how he'll run the offense, Hackett said via Klis, "It's going to be what Russell likes to do."
While that doesn't seem like a sound plan, the Seahawks actually had some success when they allowed Wilson to take an aggressive approach, which is exactly what Whitman highlighted when he talked about the genesis of the idea.
Through the first eight weeks of the 2020 season, Wilson threw for 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions. As an early MVP candidate, he lit defenses on fire, but the offense fell flat in the second half of the campaign. Wilson tossed 14 touchdown passes and seven interceptions from Weeks 9 and 17.
While on the I AM ATHLETE podcast, wide receiver DK Metcalf told retired NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall that the offense became too predictable under head coach Pete Carroll, and defenders made sure not to give up the deep ball on play-action passes downfield:
Last season, the Seahawks didn't do much cooking aerially, throwing the second-fewest pass attempts. On top of that, Wilson missed three games after he broke his finger in Week 5 and struggled with inconsistencies upon his return, throwing for zero touchdowns in three contests between Weeks 10 and 18.
Why would the Broncos go back to a plan that only worked through the first half of a season two years ago?
Because unlike his situation in Seattle, Wilson has an offensive-minded head coach in Hackett, who can make some on-the-spot game-day tweaks to the passing attack. Keep in mind that the Seahawks fired offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer following the 2020 campaign. Last season, they hired a first-time play-caller in Shane Waldron.
Hackett has his first head-coaching job, but his NFL play-calling resume goes back to the 2013 season when he was with the Buffalo Bills. As an offensive coordinator, he helped lead the Jacksonville Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game with a unit that ranked fifth in scoring and sixth in yards for the 2017 term.
Though Hackett didn't serve as the lead play-caller under Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, he earned the respect of four-time league MVP Aaron Rodgers:
Pat McAfee @PatMcAfeeShow
"We gotta great coaching staff on both sides of the ball & I think this is a little overdue for Nathaniel Hackett.. he is a great coach & a fantastic teacher"<a href="https://twitter.com/AaronRodgers12?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AaronRodgers12</a> on the Packers coaching staff getting interviewed for head coaching jobs <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PatMcAfeeShowLIVE?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PatMcAfeeShowLIVE</a> <a href="https://t.co/r5884KipGX">pic.twitter.com/r5884KipGX</a>
In areas where the Seahawks offense went stale, Hackett can refresh the scheme to keep defenses guessing and still allow Wilson to take full command of an aggressive attack.
Based on Rodgers' thoughts about his relationship with Hackett from November 2020, the Broncos have a head coach who can build a strong rapport with his lead signal-caller on and off the field.
"There's nobody in the building that brings me more joy or is more fun to be around than Nathaniel Hackett. He's become such a close confidant and friend besides a fantastic coach. I just really, really can't express enough how important he is to our team in so many ways."
Rodgers suggested that Hackett had a way to keep him engaged and teach the game, which makes it a lot easier to take constructive criticism and direction.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Carroll and Wilson had a rocky relationship that The Athletic's Mike Sando, Michael-Shawn Dugar, and Jayson Jenks chronicled up until the last offseason when trade rumors swirled around the former Seahawks quarterback.
With that peek behind the Seahawks' curtain, no one should be surprised that Wilson waived his no-trade clause to find out if the grass is greener in Denver.
Of course, Carroll has a more prominent position in Seattle than Hackett held in Green Bay, but Wilson has a head coach who probably isn't going to battle him in a power struggle over control of the offense. Based on Hackett's comments during organized team activities, he wants his star signal-caller to take full charge.
"It's all about the command of the system. We want to build this thing completely around him and make sure that he's comfortable and watch him come alive. I think he did some awesome things [in practice] utilizing his athleticism, and at the same time, being just a pure drop-back passer."
Wilson has earned the right to have a strong influence over an offense. He's a nine-time Pro Bowler with a ring and two Super Bowl appearances as the starting quarterback of the Seahawks.
While we can make the argument that those Seahawks clubs won with an iconic defense (the Legion of Boom) and a power run game that featured Marshawn Lynch, Wilson kept the club in playoff contention long after the departure of its star defenders and Beast Mode. During his 10-year run in Seattle, the club missed the playoffs twice.
Within a few months, Wilson has already embraced a leadership role, and he's drawn comparisons to Peyton Manning when he played for Denver between 2012 and 2015, according to wide receiver Courtland Sutton (h/t ESPN's Jeff Legwold).
"His knowledge of the game is to a different level. It comes to him so easy, he wants everyone around him to understand it the way he understands it. ... [But] you all can feel it, we all can feel it, the juice is just different. I wasn't here when Peyton Manning was here, but everyone who was here when Peyton was said the juice is similar. ... Everyone understands we have to operate at a different level, a different standard."
Sutton is just one of many teammates that will allow Wilson to put together five-star performances as the maestro in the Broncos' huddle. Despite Denver's unsettled and underwhelming quarterback situation, the fifth-year wideout had a 2019 Pro Bowl season and averages 15.2 yards per catch. Two years removed from a torn ACL that sidelined him for all but one game, he's an underrated go-to receiver.
With that said, Sutton doesn't have to become a star in the passing attack because the Broncos have great depth at wideout.
Jerry Jeudy, who caught 52 passes for 856 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie, will attempt to rebound from an injury-riddled 2021 campaign in which he missed seven games. Going into his third year, he still has a lot of upside. If Jeudy avoids a major issue with his groin, he'll benefit from a significant upgrade at quarterback.
On the boundary opposite Sutton, Tim Patrick will probably round out a strong 11 personnel group. Over the past two seasons, he's hauled in 104 passes for 1,476 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Wilson will have two big red-zone targets in Sutton (6'4", 216 lbs) and Patrick (6'4", 212 lbs), who can put a lot of pressure on defenses while in striking distance of a touchdown. Meanwhile, Jeudy brings speed and slot versatility—KJ Hamler can potentially do the same after taking notes from Seahawks wideout Tyler Lockett.
While on the mend from a torn ACL, Hamler took time to see how he could mimic Lockett, which would put him in a good position to produce with Wilson under center, per The Athletic's Nick Kosmider.
"I’m a big fan of Tyler’s game and me and him have talked a lot. I’ve just been picking his brain, like, ‘How does Russ handle these situations?’ It’s being a sponge, absorbing knowledge from two Pro Bowl guys. I put on Tyler’s film and I’m like, ‘OK, he did this and he did that.’ And then it’s, ‘OK, I can do all this.’ I’ve just got to go out there and play and get back on the field.'”
With only 35 receptions for 455 yards and three touchdowns through 16 games, Hamler will go into the 2022 season as the X-factor in the offense, capable of making explosive plays.
Wilson can spice up the offense with throws to a pair of tight ends in Albert Okwuegbunam and rookie third-rounder Greg Dulcich. He also has a running back duo in Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III, who combined for 71 receptions for 529 yards and five touchdowns last year.
With a steady offensive line that could return three primary starters and welcome back interior offensive lineman Graham Glasgow from a season-ending injury in Week 9, Wilson has all the ingredients to serve up big point totals all year.
Now that Wilson has an offensive head coach calling the shots, he can become a better lead chef. While Carroll is known for his concerted effort to establish the run, Hackett seems more inclined to "Let Russ Cook."
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.