Has Russell Wilson’s Mammoth Contract Left No Breathing Room for the Denver Broncos?
The Denver Broncos are almost out of the playoff race, and their quarterback, too, might be out of the team in the future. Russell Wilson was acquired in March 2022 by the Orange Crush, signing one of the boldest trades in the league. He inked a five-year contract extension worth $245M. In his two seasons with the team, he covered 30 games with only 11 wins.
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However, despite a poor season with eight losses and seven wins, he has achieved some historic personal records: his rushing prowess for more than 5,000 yards. But as it is for himself, coach Sean Payton and his team no longer seem happy with him. Therefore, they benched Wilson for the Chargers’ game and also tried to save a significant amount in their salary cap, as they are now reportedly looking for a change for the team next March.
Is Russell Wilson’s boldest contract ending?
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The former NC State quarterback, Russell Wilson, has played in 188 NFL games, starting every one. However, for the first time in his career, he faced benching by the Denver Broncos. Russell Wilson has had a decent season with Denver, completing “66% of his passes for 3070 yards, 26 TDs, and 8 INTs in 15 starts.” However, he hasn’t replicated his success in Seattle, where he maintained an impressive record of 104 wins, 53 losses, and one tie as a starting QB. During his golden period with the Hawks, he threw for 37,059 yards and earned nine Pro Bowl selections in 10 seasons.
Russell Wilson’s benching by the Broncos today is solely financially related and has been in the works for weeks, per multiple sources with direct… pic.twitter.com/pmq172Cm1H
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) December 27, 2023
Coach Sean Payton said, “This is about now and trying to get our eighth win… it’s a decision I’m making — is to get a spark offensively.” Reports also suggest this decision was made to avoid triggering an additional $37M in his guaranteed money if he suffered an injury and couldn’t pass a physical by March. If a player is injured, they can’t be released immediately unless there’s a mutually agreed-upon settlement related to the injury. This is why Denver chose to bench him for the season’s last two games.
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Furthermore, Russell Wilson’s contract lasts until 2028, but the money he is guaranteed to receive as part of that contract is only assured until 2024. The idea of contract settling has been under consideration for nearly two months, with the threat of benching looming since October 29 following a win over the Chiefs. The Broncos wanted Wilson to adjust his contract to defer the injury date to 2025; otherwise, he would be rendered inactive for the rest of the season. The threat shocked him, leading to a major dispute. Wilson posted a tweet saying, “God’s got me. Looking forward to what’s next.” Wilson, who has $37M in injury guarantees for 2025, faces a guarantee trigger date in March 2024. Negotiations involving his camp and the NFLPA helped keep his contract intact.
The Broncos initially improved with Wilson under center, winning five consecutive games after a challenging start. However, according to ESPN’s NFL Football Power Index, recent upsets have dimmed their playoff hopes to just 4%.
If the Broncos part ways with Wilson this offseason, cutting him after June 1 would spread the dead money ($85M) more evenly over two seasons ($35.4M in 2024 and $49.6M in 2025), resulting in a total commitment of $305M. This spreading of dead money over multiple years helps mitigate the immediate financial strain on the team’s salary cap. However, it will still represent a significant financial commitment for the Broncos, affecting their ability to sign new players or keep existing ones within the constraints of the salary cap.
The Broncos face challenges with their salary cap, projected to be over $26.5M by 2024. If Wilson is removed, his deal will cost the Broncos $124M for two years, with a significant salary cap impact.
What’s next for the Broncos and Russell Wilson?
After the Broncos benched Russell Wilson, the team moved ahead with Jarrett Stidham. According to reports, the Broncos are expected to cut him in March, and Wilson already knows about it. If he becomes a free agent next year, he could be a sought-after player for several teams.
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The Commanders, under coach Ron Rivera, have struggled with a stable starting quarterback since 2017. Being from Richmond, Virginia, Wilson could be a valuable addition to filling that gap and working on their robust defense. Another team to consider is the Steelers, where coach Mike Tomlin has a history of keeping the team competitive, and Wilson could benefit from their strong defense and commitment to running the game.
Atlanta faces quarterback challenges, as Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke are inadequate long-term options. The team might find Wilson appealing, though the match with coach Arthur Smith is uncertain. The Giants, dealing with quarterback issues and Daniel Jones’ injury, could be another potential destination, provided they improve their receiving talent. Last, the Patriots, post-Tom Brady, might look to Wilson to rejuvenate their team under coach Bill Belichick (if he stays), similar to the Cam Newton Era in 2020.
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Five teams could offer Wilson a spot on next season’s roster. If these teams overlook his era with the Broncos and instead focus on his remarkable feat in the league, being the first player to run for over 5,000 yards and pass for 4,000 yards in his career, the going could get easier for him.