It's a little crazy to think how bonkers some in the media and Denver Broncos fan base have gone over the team approaching Russell Wilson about delaying a $37 million injury guarantee in his contract. Many are up in arms over the way the Broncos went about approaching Russell Wilson's situation given his recent benching in favor of backup Jarrett Stidham, and there are some valid arguments to be made for the way the team went about it.
According to some reports, Wilson was "threatened" during the Broncos' bye week, a move Wilson considered a "low blow" from the organization. The alleged "threat" is that Wilson moved his injury guarantee or he would be benched. Would it be a bad look for the Broncos to threaten Wilson in this way? Absolutely.
Are there two sides to every story? Absolutely.
While Wilson's side of the story makes the team look bad, the other side of the story is that the Broncos reportedly came to Wilson about this detail in his contract over the Summer as well as during the bye week. To think Wilson is above being approached about this detail is perhaps the root of the issue. Wilson was coming off of a horrendous year in 2022, and frankly has been fortunate to have late-game heroics mask an average-at-best season in 2023.
Peter King of NBC Sports/FMIA posted his information regarding Wilson's situation on Monday morning and thinks the Broncos should face "discipline" for the way they handled things.
"Wilson alleged that Broncos GM George Paton asked or demanded that Wilson adjust the injury guarantee in his contract in midseason, to delay for a year major guarantees in his contract; if he didn’t, the quarterback would be benched. That’s outrageous. It’s the ultimate example of a bad-faith threat. The Broncos agreed to terms of a contract in 2022, and then, in the middle of the 2023 season, when they’d just beaten Super Bowl champ Kansas City, they asked Wilson to change his contract to make it easier for Denver to cut him after the season. “It was a low blow,” Wilson said. The lowest. Mark Maske of the Washington Post reported Sunday that the NFLPA threatened legal action against the Broncos at the time, and that the threat violated the CBA. Of course it did. The Broncos backed down, but the NFL should discipline the franchise for this."- Peter King
I think this is an egregious idea from Peter King, whose experience in this business should help him know better. Peyton Manning was cut by the Colts at one point, asked to take a pay cut by the Broncos, and "benched" during his final season. Tom Brady consistently didn't take market value on his contract with the Patriots, yet they shoved him out the door after the 2018 season. If the greatest of all-time can go through this, I think Russell Wilson is going to be okay.
The issue is, Wilson's play right now is not good enough to withstand the added weight of being benched on top of it all. Although the statistics say otherwise in some categories, the Broncos have been poor passing the ball overall this season. They haven't exactly had a top-five running game to lean on, but even throwing the ball less than most teams, the Broncos have had very little success throwing the ball this season.
They rank 31st in the NFL in passing first downs per game, behind only the New York Giants, at 8.9 passing first downs per game. That statistic alone paints the picture entirely. The Broncos have gotten clutch play from Russell Wilson at times this year -- meaning they didn't bench him as they apparently threatened to a long time ago -- but they haven't gotten consistent offensive success under two different coaches in two different offenses.
If Wilson was playing well enough, he probably wouldn't have been asked to come off of the injury guarantee for 2025, it's as simple as that. This has nothing to do with a coach liking or not liking Russell Wilson.
Whether he was asked harshly or not, the Broncos didn't follow through with their threats. Perhaps that was to avoid being disciplined by the NFL, or perhaps they actualy did want Russ to be part of the team in 2024 since he's already on the books for a whopping $39 million guaranteed. As of the end of the 2023 season, Wilson will already have made $89 million in cash from the Broncos. The 39 million he's owed in 2024 will bring us up to the $124 million in practical guarantees he received at signing, and the $37 million that's been such a huge topic in recent weeks would bring us up to the $161 million in total guarantees on Wilson's $245 million deal.
Russ has every right to decline the Broncos' advances when it comes to adjusting his contract, but everyone knew based on the way he was playing that a reduction in pay was likely the only way he was going to be back in 2024. Perhaps Wilson knew it himself, and is forcing the Broncos' hand.
Like I said, with the way he has played over the last two years, the last thing Russ needed for his overall value to any other team he might play for in the NFL was being benched. We shouldn't be surprised that Wilson and Sean Payton have found a measure of success together despite the fit not being ideal. Payton vowed he would play Wilson's greatest hits this season, and that's exactly what we saw.
Unfortunately, you can't just play the greatest hits to have sustained success. This isn't the Taylor Swift Eras Tour. It would be naive to think that this benching by the Broncos had absolutely nothing to do with the financial situation after the season. It would be foolish, in the same way, to think that this had absolutely nothing to do with football, either.
The idea that the Broncos should face discipline for any of this is going to have me rolling my eyes all the way into the back of my head.