Broncos' Wilson nightmare one Bears were lucky to avoid

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There was a time not so long ago when the Bears and their fans dared to dream about acquiring a Super Bowl-winning quarterback who could single-handedly change the trajectory of one of the most tortured QB landing spots in NFL history.

As the dream went, Russell Wilson could write the second chapter of his Hall of Fame career in Chicago. He'd arrive to fanfare and start cooking at Soldier Field, taking the Bears from NFC North doormat to Super Bowl contender in the blink of an eye.

The belief was that Wilson would have been their salvation. In retrospect, the Bears avoided what would have been an all-time catastrophe.

At Trey Lance's pro day in 2021, then-general manager Ryan Pace reportedly offered Seahawks general manager John Schneider three first-round picks, a couple veteran players (reportedly Khalil Mack and Aikiem Hicks), and other draft capital for Wilson. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll turned the deal down, and Wilson spent one final season cooking in the Pacific Northwest before being traded to the Denver Broncos prior to this season.

Had Carroll signed off on Pace's godfather offer, the Bears would have spent a few months on Cloud Nine before discovering what Carroll and the Seahawks had long known: Russ is cooked.

Any trade for Wilson would have come with a lucrative extension like the five-year, $242.5 million deal the Broncos gave him before he had ever taken a snap, chaining them to the aging quarterback for the foreseeable future.

The Broncos, like the Bears, envisioned Wilson as the end point of their great quarterback quest. Years spent toiling in quarterback hell were finally over with Wilson asking Broncos Country to ride.

Reality is often disappointing.

Wilson has looked like a shell of the star quarterback who overstayed his welcome in Seattle. He left Seattle after butting heads with Carroll over the offensive focus, wanting to head to a team that would let him sit in the pocket and "cook."

As it turns out, Carroll saw the train coming down the tracks long before anyone else.

Wilson has been an abject disaster in Year 1 in Denver.

He is completing just 60.1 percent of his passes and has thrown for 3,019 yards, 12 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. The high-flying offense the Broncos expected Wilson to orchestrate with wide receivers Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and K.J. Hamler never materialized.

After getting pasted by Baker Mayfield and the Los Angeles Rams 51-14 on Christmas Day, the Broncos fired head coach Nathanial Hackett after just 15 games.

Denver is 4-11 and is currently slotted to pick No. 3 in the 2023 NFL Draft. That pick goes to the Seahawks.

The Broncos have no way out of their Wilson predicament. They mortgaged their future on the blockbuster deal to acquire him and the extension they handed out before he played a single down as a Bronco. Due to Wilson's dead cap hit, the earliest the Broncos could realistically cut bait with him would be in 2025.

RELATED: Why Bears have no plans to shut down healthy Fields

Things could have been much different for the Broncos and Bears. 

There's a world in which Carroll accepts the offer Pace presented to Schneider, and Wilson heads to Chicago. There's a world where the Broncos choose to draft Justin Fields at No. 9 overall in 2021 instead of budding star cornerback Patrick Surtain.

Drafting Fields would have solved the Broncos' quarterback issue and left the Bears as one of the few teams remaining as a Wilson destination.

Carroll's decision to turn down the Bears' offer because he didn't want to rebuild saved them from themselves and changed the trajectory of several franchises.

The Bears are 3-12, yes. But they have a clear direction with a young quarterback in Justin Fields and a head coach in Matt Eberflus, who has kept morale high amid a losing streak. There's no question that general manager Ryan Poles has a lot of work to do to start building a winning roster around Fields.

But the arrow is pointing up at the moment.

The Broncos, meanwhile, are trapped in a hellscape of their own making. They can't rid themselves of Wilson and his contract for a few years. They have limited assets to try and improve the team in other areas. Their best chance is to find a head coach with the cachet to sell Wilson on going back to an offense that gets him outside the pocket more and utilizes more run game and play action.

Sean Payton might be their only hope. But acquiring him would cost them more draft capital they don't have.

Two teams wandered through quarterback purgatory together, both lusting after the same, over-idealized prize.

Carroll turned the Bears down, Fields fell in their lap, and a path forward was born. The Broncos paid over-market value for Wilson, a block of cubic zirconia they believed to be a diamond.

The Bears enter a critical offseason armed with over $100 million in cap space, an ascending young quarterback, and a high draft pick while the Broncos stew over the franchise-detonating error they made out of desperation and a thirst to return to glory days long since past.

The road back for one team will be much longer than the other.

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