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The Broncos Seem Done With Russell Wilson

3:15 PM EST on December 27, 2023

DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 24: Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos passes during the 1st quarter of the game against the New England Patriots at Empower Field At Mile High on December 24, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Now that the Broncos' playoff chances have been all but snuffed out with back-to-back losses to the Lions and Patriots, it seems Sean Payton has moved onto a different battle: getting out of the Russell Wilson business. Payton told Wilson he'll be benched for Denver's final two games of the season for Jarrett Stidham, which has less to do with Wilson's play this season or some faith in a guy with two starts in his five-year career and more to do with the organization's desire to wriggle out from under the five-year extension they signed him to last September.

The structure of Wilson's mega-deal is such that his 2024 money is already guaranteed, but his $37 million salary for the 2025 season will only become guaranteed if he's too injured to pass a physical in March 2024. The Broncos clearly don't want Wilson to get hurt enough that they'll have to pay him for two more years, which the timing makes very clear. They're still technically in the playoff hunt, though they'd have to win out and have other teams lose out to get in. Their best chance to do so would be with Wilson, who's been mostly fine this year, tossing 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions for the league's most average scoring offense.

But the Broncos have sputtered out in a bunch of critical spots, like third downs and the red zone this year, and Payton has been pretty visibly fed up with Wilson. "Right now, we’re average to below-average, in a lot of things offensively and it’s not good enough," he said Tuesday, before downplaying a Wilson-led 16-point comeback to tie the game against the Patriots. "It was more spontaneous. It was more spread, empty. But it’s hard to say you’re going to make a living that way as your base offense." He's clearly ready to get his ass out of there, which will still be a pretty painful process even if the Broncos cut him.

If the team designates Wilson as a post-June 1 release, they'd carry $85 million in dead cap money over the next two seasons (easily the most in league history), which would make it onerous to pay for one of the mediocre starting quarterbacks of the 2024 free agent class. And the Broncos will probably be picking too late in the draft to snag one of the premier QBs, and they don't have a second-rounder. Either way, Payton has clearly had enough of Wilson, and the organization is so ready to move on that it's willing to accept some amount of short-term pain.

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