Of all the many moves the Denver Broncos have made already in NFL free agency, it feels like the two-year deal given to QB Jarrett Stidham has flown a bit under the radar. Of course, there was some initial shock about the signing given the investment ($10 million over two years) and the position Stidham plays, but the shock factor has worn off and the move was sort of written off as Stidham simply being a backup to Russell Wilson.
But there's more to this signing than meets the eye. Stidham was with the Las Vegas Raiders last year and was given the opportunity to start a couple of games late in the season when the team went through its ugly separation with Derek Carr. When Stidham got the chance to play, the Raiders had been going through a massive bout of inconsistency offensively. They scored a combined 67 points in wins against the Seahawks and Chargers before scoring just 16 in a disappointing loss to the Rams.
They followed up the loss to the Rams with 30 points against the Patriots and then just 10 against the Steelers. It was the loss to Pittsburgh that prompted the Raiders to bench Derek Carr for Stidham, and to say there were low expectations for what he would be able to do would be an understatement. He was facing off against the league's top defense (San Francisco) and most people figured it would be a bloodbath in favor of the 49ers.
Stidham came out and led the Raiders to their biggest passing output of the season (365 yards) as well as their second-biggest total offensive output of the year (500 yards), albeit in a 34-37 overtime loss. Still, he put folks on notice with a huge showing against a really great defense.
Okay great, so it was one really good game, right? That's it. Just one game. Although NFL people have seemingly liked Stidham for some time, now, this is just one example of how well he's capable of playing and it really doesn't mean all that much to some people. I get that, and it's a valid point to make.
It is just one game.
With that being said, Sean Payton's comments about the Stidham move are simply undeniable in their importance.
"What I said is I think there’s upside in this player. So here we are. We have a young player. I think there’s certain players we saw in free agency—can they come in and play and start? Yes. I think you get that with Jarrett, but I also think you get a player who is still ascending. If you watch the 49ers’ game—have you seen that game? That’s impressive against a good defense. He was a priority for us—quietly. Fortunately, it worked out where we were able to get him."- Sean Payton (via Broncos PR)
Again, those words carry undeniable weight when you consider the situation the Denver Broncos are in. Maybe more importantly, the situation Russell Wilson finds himself in. The Broncos can move on from Wilson after the 2023 season if things don't go well. It would be a tough pill to swallow for the team financially, but football-wise, they are not tied to Russ beyond this year.
Jarrett Stidham might not be the name that gets everyone excited as a legitimate starting option this year or next, but he's definitely the guy that the Broncos targeted and identified from a pretty strong group in free agency as the guy. Stidham's presence on the roster is going to push Russell Wilson one way or the other. Either Wilson is going to respond positively to having a guy behind him who is going to operate the offense efficiently, or we could see Russ struggle once again in 2023 with some of the same issues we saw creep up in 2022.
Payton also talked about the fact that watching the 2022 Broncos was an unpleasant experience. It was for all of us. But Payton's comments regarding Russ? Well, they're interesting, to say the least.
"“He’s super competitive. He’s won at a high level. He’s someone that I think moves well. He’s someone that I think works extremely hard. It’s hard to find guys with all those traits. Now, I watched, with every one of you, the season that took place a year ago. I said this a little bit earlier. There’s probably a little bit of dirt on a lot of people’s hands. When you win five games, it is what it is. I don’t think I need to elaborate any more. It wasn’t good. Wasn’t good on offense, that’s for sure. It was hard film to watch.”"- Sean Payton
The Jarrett Stidham signing should undoubtedly take on some new meaning. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Stidham is going to start over Russell Wilson, or that the two are going to be in competition during training camp, but the heat is undoubtedly on.