With the 2023 season appearing to be a lost cause and dim path, the Denver Broncos and head coach Sean Payton need to seriously begin evaluating their starting quarterback Russell Wilson and his remaining contract with the team. In 2024, Wilson will be due for a $35.4M deal cap hit and carries $85M in dead cap the same year. With a "tear down" of the roster and front office expected to unfold before the trade deadline and during the beginning of the offseason, it may be in the best interest of the franchise's long-term future to begin debating whether or Wilson is worth keeping around, if they have not already.
If the Broncos continue on for the remainder of the season with Russell Wilson as their starter, they are risking a major cap casualty as soon as next season. If Wilson were to suffer a serious injury at any point in the next 11 games, the Broncos would automatically be forced to pay him an extra $37M on top of the $39M he is guaranteed in 2024. At some point, CEO Greg Penner and head coach Sean Payton need to seriously consider naming QB Jarrett Stidham the starter for the remainder of the season.
What else is the team playing for? Dignity? Stat padding? Obviously, NFL players are always playing to win games, especially with their jobs on the line and their respective futures depending on their performances. However, this does not mean that the coaching staff and ownership view the 1-5 start to the season as just a "bump in the road". The horrific performance by the defense and of course multiple players on the offensive side of the ball is a clear indication that the team has been blindly moving backward for years and is finally realizing it with numerous players popping up in trade talks.
The Denver Broncos should bite the bullet and accept that the Russell Wilson experiment was a failure. Yes, Wilson has overall played exceptional football to start the season however, the Broncos are not paying him $48.5M annually to be an "exceptional" quarterback. As Michael Lombardi recently stated, Wilson is simply a shell of his old self and is not losing the Broncos games by any means, but is not the reason the Broncos can win games. It's best the Denver Broncos rip the Band-Aid off now and not double down on the trade by moving forward with Wilson and making matters worse because if his play continues to decline, paying the aging quarterback elite money will continue to look historically bad on your franchise.
Benching Wilson now can save the team from losing an additional $37M in 2024. The Broncos are already in a disadvantageous spot with Wilson's contract therefore, they may as well explore any avenue to retain any money they can and get his contract off the books. There is no logical reason to keep Wilson in the lineup with the playoff hopes long gone and a rebuild coming soon.
The best-case scenario for both parties would be to explore any possible trade opportunities, even if it means the Broncos only receive a 7th-round pick in return. That way, the Broncos would not have to eat anywhere near the amount of dead cap had they released him. However, that situation has less than a 1% percent chance of coming to fruition, given Wilson's declining play and increasingly expensive contract over the remaining years. It would be a miracle for the Broncos to pull off a trade for Wilson.
Wilson's skill level is simply not what the Broncos traded for and even though the draft capital sent to the Seattle Seahawks in return for Wilson is judged as the "worst trade in NFL history", the contract awarded to the aging signal-caller is what ultimately is setting the Broncos back, especially in 2024. His contract is only going to become increasingly more expensive and difficult to move on from starting in 2025.
Trading veterans Justin Simmons, Courtland Sutton, and Garett Bolles can save the Broncos nearly $60M in 2024 cap space (depending on how much dead cap Denver is forced to take on) and make the process a much smoother one financially. It's time to move on and it is with certainty that Sean Payton already has his eyes set on a quarterback or two in the upcoming NFL Draft.