Russell Wilson benched — Will the Broncos cut ties with the Super Bowl-winning QB?

Russell Wilson has put up respectable numbers in 2023 after a disappointing debut campaign in Denver. However, the Broncos announced Wednesday that Wilson would serve as the backup for Weeks 17 and 18. Is it the beginning of the end?
Dec 24, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) before the game
Dec 24, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) before the game / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After leading the Seattle Seahawks for a decade from 2012-2021, superstar quarterback Russell Wilson got dealt to the Denver Broncos for a King’s ransom last offseason. In addition to receiving a few players in the trade, the Seahawks also acquired a slew of high-end NFL Draft picks.

Russell Wilson Benched: Is His Time In Mile High Coming To An End?

While Wilson and his Broncos stumbled through the first season as a pair, Seattle stormed to a surprising playoff berth in 2022. Not only that but thanks to the lackluster play in Mile High, the Seahawks found themselves picking inside the top five at the 2023 NFL Draft.

Denver made a shrewd move in the offseason, sending another coveted draft pick to the New Orleans Saints for head coach Sean Payton. The hope with this move stemmed from Payton’s ability to get the most out of an aging Drew Brees — the “cure” to Wilson’s dismal performance in 2022, if you will.

Alas, the Broncos started the 2023 campaign in similar form, even with the new leader in the locker room. At 1-5, many around the league began wondering if the end of the Russell Wilson era would come sooner rather than later. A five-game win streak calmed the discourse, but Denver has dropped three of its last four, and now it’s more than just rumors regarding Wilson.

The Broncos announced Wednesday that the Super Bowl-winning signal-caller would move to QB2 on the depth chart. In his place? Jarrett Stidham. If this all sounds familiar, that’s because Stidham filled in for former Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr in a similar circumstance last season.

The front office claims that the benching of Wilson is strictly a “football decision” and primarily due to the play on field. Although there is some truth to this, it’s hard to buy at face value. Wilson has impressive numbers, and even if he’s far removed from the player he was in Seattle, most of the issues in Denver don’t have to do with quarterback play on field.

Wilson’s Contract Will Weigh Down Denver Whether He’s Rostered Or Not

However, where the problem truly lies is his jaw-dropping salary. The Broncos handed Wilson a $245 million contract following the trade, essentially tying the franchise to the former third-rounder. There is also an injury clause in the deal, meaning Denver would be on the hook for even more money if Wilson were to suffer an injury in the final two games.

That’s where the move mirrors what the Raiders did with Derek Carr. After signing the long-time starter to a hefty extension, the Vegas front office cut ties less than 12 months later, benching Carr in the process to avoid triggering his own injury clause. Ironically enough, Stidham served as the spot-starter in both instances.

It’s hard to blame the Broncos for turning the page — if that is what the franchise intends to do. The match never felt quite right, and Wilson has not proven to be worth a contract that significantly hampers any chance of adding talent around him.

Where it gets tricky is the dead cap space. Releasing Wilson would incur a $39 million cap hit for 2024, which is rather pricy but still manageable. It’s the dead cap that complicates things. Currently, Wilson is set to take up $85 million with his dead cap charge, a whopping one-third of the total salary cap available to Denver.

There are some workarounds, including designating Wilson’s release as a post-June 1 move. That would allow the front office to split the $85 million in dead cap across the 2024 and 2025 seasons. Simply put, the Broncos have no way of offloading this entire contract, and they will deal with repercussions from it for the next couple of years.

That is, barring a trade, which at this point seems like an impossibility. Sure, teams like the Falcons and Commanders will have considerable interest in Wilson, but inheriting that sizable deal, plus trading draft picks for him, is nothing more than a pipe dream for the Broncos.

Russell Wilson Still Has Enough Juice For The Right Price — Just Not With The Broncos

The 35-year-old quarterback will land on his feet somewhere in the offseason. In 2023, Wilson’s numbers have returned to form, with a sparkling 66.4 completion rate and 26 passing touchdowns to only eight interceptions.

He’s become a souped-up game manager of sorts, which is valuable to fringe playoff teams with ascending rosters. It just isn’t enough for the Broncos to justify spending such a pretty penny.

If Wilson leads a different franchise to the postseason in 2024, that may sting for Denver, but remember, it will be at a fraction of his current cost. The best move might be ripping the band-aid off, eating the cap charges, and finding the right signal-caller to get the Broncos back to their winning ways.

An eight-year playoff drought is enough. Fans deserve better. And it's up to Sean Payton and Co. to right the ship — with or without Russell Wilson.

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