Only a knucklehead would send Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson back on the field to play a meaningless NFL game a scant seven days after he sustained a concussion. In this lost season, the last thing Denver needs is Wolverine blood on its hands.
Here is a chance, maybe his last best chance, for Nathaniel Hackett to prove his worthiness as coach of the Broncos.
Play Wilson against the woeful Arizona Cardinals? Even if Wilson passes all the tests and clears all five phases of the NFL’s concussion protocol, it would be nuts. The risk of Wilson getting battered and bruised behind a bad Denver offensive line outweighs the potential reward of a last-place team ending a five-game losing streak.
Here is where Hackett can be the adult in the room. Now is the time for Hackett to protect the $245 million investment new ownership made in this quarterback. For a change, maybe for the first time, Hackett has the opportunity to tell Wilson a word this QB has seldom heard since arriving in town: No.
Yes, I saw Wilson on Wednesday, doing all his Mr. Unlimited things. He threw 30-yard darts during a non-contact drill at practice. He hung out with the fellows in Denver’s locker room. He scurried with purpose into a film study session at team headquarters.
As Wilson told us back in October, after suffering a hamstring strain during a loss in Los Angeles to the Chargers, his powers of physical recovery border on the supernatural. “I heal quickly,” Wilson said, with words that went viral to all corners of the internet. “I don’t know – Wolverine blood, or whatever.”
In comic books, the blood of Wolverine is Type E (as in endless). He’s harder to kill than a vampire. But a Wolverine, like a quarterback, is only issued one brain. And the brain of Wilson was damaged by a fierce tackle from Kansas City’s Frank Clark during the 34-28 loss that eliminated Denver from playoff consideration.
While in concussion protocol, Wilson did not meet with the media for his regular Wednesday press conference. But for all his quirks, we do know Wilson is a fiery competitor with an intense desire to lead this team, through good times and bad.
All the observable data points suggest there’s a good chance he will clear the concussion protocols prior to Sunday. But medical clearance doesn’t mean it would be a smart football decision to play Wilson against the Cardinals. After all the horror stories we’ve read about the ravages of CTE on the brains of NFL players, why would the Broncos risk adding another chapter?
“In the end, his safety is what matters to us. We want to be sure that we are taking care of him and all of his well-being. We’re doing what’s right for Russell,” Hackett said.
“We have a really good medical department and an independent neurologist (involved in the decision). We’re going to be sure that we are in constant communication with them. He’s being monitored by everybody, and we’ll go from there. We’ll talk with (Wilson), and it will be an organizational decision.”
Wilson is the face of a franchise the Walton family purchased for $4.65 billion.
If new Broncos CEO Greg Penner takes the long view, he knows the immense sunk costs in Wilson can only be justified by playoff berths in 2023 and beyond, not by a victory against Arizona, a franchise whose future now looks gloomy after a recent ACL injury to quarterback Kyler Murray.
As general manager, George Paton saw how Cincinnati found a way to beat mighty Kansas City earlier this month with leading rusher Joe Mixon sidelined with a concussion.
But Hackett should require no arm-twisting from his bosses to make the choice to sit Wilson against the Cardinals. A compassionate coach knows it’s the right thing to do. A confident coach would firmly believe he can win this game with back-up Brett Rypien playing quarterback. A coach that has seemingly deferred to every whim of Wilson can use this opportunity to reassert his control of the team.
This decision? It’s a no-brainer.
Take away Wilson’s helmet and tell him if he’s nice, maybe the Broncos will allow him to come out and play on Christmas day.