The Denver Broncos' trade for quarterback Russell Wilson is a lot like a really good head of lettuce.
No matter how great it looks and is, when you start to peel away the leaves it just gets better and better.
One of the greatest quarterbacks of this era (and this is the era), Wilson is beloved by everyone — teammates, fans, the media, and, likely, space aliens as well.
He is known for his great character and spirit of giving, as is shown by his already being a national winner of the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for service to the community. Considering the fame and prominence of all associated with the NFL, that is one of the nation's greatest humanitarian honors.
Broncos General Manager George Paton has taken one short year to establish his forever legacy running the team.
The greatest trades in Broncos history have been that for John Elway (likely always regarded as number one), this one — of course — the Mike Shanahan trade for Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey (but he played defense, and in the NFL, there is the quarterback, and then all others), and the trade in 1977 for the seemingly washed-up Craig Morton. One trip to the Super Bowl later, Morton was clearly not washed up.
But that is it, for the Broncos.
A real short list, and only the Wilson trade involves a proven, Super Bowl-winning quarterback still in his absolute prime.
Furthermore, the short list almost gets shorter when all of the NFL is considered, relative to future Hall of Fame quarterbacks still in their prime. Johnny Unitas to the Chargers, for example, involved a passer clearly past his prime.
The famous Texan Bobby Layne ("Bobby never lost a game," Doak Walker once said. "Time just ran out.") was still considered in his prime, though coming off injury, when Detroit traded him to Pittsburgh in 1958. But the Steelers had never won a playoff game and bore little resemblance to the Detroit Lions, who won three NFL titles in the 1950s.
The only trades I can really think of that involved a really good, in-his-prime quarterback going to a team of class are last year's trade of Matthew Stafford to the Rams and Y. A. Tittle going to the New York Giants.
In the interests of readers unfamiliar with Tittle, he had played for the San Francisco 49ers from 1951-60, a glorious time in pro football history, but was traded to the media capital of the football world (as well as the real world) in 1961. Tittle played four years with the Giants and earned MVP status while leading New York to 31 wins and three NFL title game appearances in his first three years.
Other quarterbacks have been traded at the ends of magnificent careers, or had great success as free agents with new teams after the world gave up on them, but this trade stands like a unicorn.
The Broncos, according to just about any expert, are somewhere between loaded and very good, so Wilson moved the Super Bowl needle dramatically.
Denver still has roster work to do, but the heaviest of lifting is always at the quarterback position, and Paton did that this week.
And the ultimate goal may be way closer than one might think.
The legitimately great Kansas City Chiefs have hosted a record four straight AFC Championship Games, and while it is easy to think they will always do so, I don't look at it that way. All streaks come to an end, and so too will that one.
New water always seeks its own level and does not care at what point the previous high-water mark stood.
There was a good column by the outstanding writer Ian O'Connor in the New York Post last week to the effect that the NFL is divided into two parts, not actually by the NFC and the AFC, but by the teams that have a big-time, top-of-the-line, franchise quarterback, and those that do not. O'Connor went on to place the Broncos exactly where Broncos Country does, in the "we have one" category of teams that could win any game, at any time, from September until February.
That is a list that the Broncos lived in, and many times led, from 1977 through almost all of Pat Bowlen's regime.
Can you imagine an owner who won 300 games in his first 30 years — and in fact did not consider that to be enough? That was Pat, and he would absolutely love this deal. He would have approved it and encouraged Paton every step of the way, from start to finish.
I still remember the dark night in his office when we were sitting casually and Mr. B uttered his immortal words to me, "I want us to be number one in everything."
Like I said, there is still work to do, but I have no doubt George Paton will do it.
This is our standard. This is our level.
The Broncos are back.