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Number Three and Other Possibilities: Examining Russell Wilson’s Future with the Denver Broncos

Courtesy of Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports

In a chaotic seven seasons, the Denver Broncos have gone through twelve starting quarterbacks, the most recent being Russell Wilson. For the past two months, the Broncos have been under intense pressure for the benching and potential release of Wilson. As the country watches, speculation arises on where Wilson will end up and what financial effect his release will have on the franchise.

Ahead of Denver’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers (5-11) in Week 17, head coach Sean Payton announced that he would be benching Wilson and starting Jarrett Stidham. Payton said, “Sure, in our game today, there are economics and all those other things, but the No. 1 push behind this–and it’s a decision I’m making–is to get a spark offensively.” The match resulted in a win for the 8-9 Broncos, proving that Stidham can win games.

Wilson announced that during Denver’s bye week,  the Broncos threatened to bench him if he didn’t waive his $37 million injury guarantee for 2025. Following that news, the NFLPA sent the Broncos a letter in November stating that this threat violated the collective bargaining agreement. Though it’s not the widespread perception in the league, Payton has maintained that Wilson’s benching is performance-related and has nothing to do with finances.

The quarterback has twenty-six touchdowns and eight interceptions in the 2023 season. Though not extraordinary, his completion rate is a solid 66.4%, and he boasts 3,070 yards. So, if his stats are good on paper, why have the Broncos benched him, and why might the franchise decide on a release? 

Sources say that while watching the film, teammates saw that Wilson wasn’t finding his open players in time and discussed that the then-backup Stidham might be a more valuable starter. Payton saw that Wilson would make plays late in the fourth quarter but found his lack of consistent efficiency on the field. In the team’s practice, Payton found Stidham to be the dependable choice. However, one big thing has been ignored: if the Broncos bench Wilson now, they avoid paying his $37 million injury guarantee.

Courtesy of RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

This potential release will have a significant effect on the Denver franchise. If they decide to release Wilson, the Broncos will owe him $39 million in 2024, and if they release him before June 1st, Denver will have $85 million in dead cap spread over two years. This financial effect would not be suitable for the Broncos, who already traded three players and four draft picks for the quarterback. 

However, after Denver closed their season 8-9, owner/CEO Greg Penner, General Manager George Paton, and Payton met Tuesday to discuss the quarterback’s future with the team. While no decision has been made, Payton said, “...We’ll look at all the scenarios and try to do what’s best for the Broncos. But communication will be important, and, yeah, that final decision hasn’t been made.” 

Courtesy of Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are predicted to be his landing spot if Wilson is released. CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin says he sees Wilson signing a three-year, $90 million contract. 

Benjamin writes, “The former Seahawks star was always going to need an MVP-caliber resurgence to win new coach Sean Payton’s approval as the highly paid face of the franchise. He wasn’t bad in 2023, but his numbers also mask a general streakiness and sluggishness running the Broncos offense–all the way up to his polarizing Week 17 demotion, which effectively signaled the end of his short-lived Denver career. At 35, it’s clear Wilson is no longer the elite dual threat he once was. But his downfield touch returned at points in 2023, and he should have a decent market after his inevitable release, especially with Denver already paying his 2024 salary.”

With no final decision, predicting what the Broncos will do with veteran quarterback Russell Wilson is difficult. If they decide to release him, the franchise faces danger to their salary cap, but if they keep the quarterback, he may have contract changes. With the Broncos having faced seasons of uncertainty and disappointment, it will be interesting to see what the team will do in the upcoming 2024 season.

Edited By: Juliana Long

Social Media Content Created by: Brianna Huffmaster

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