The public back-and-forth between Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos has been one of the biggest topics in the NFL over the last week, and understandably so. It's not often you see former Super Bowl champion quarterbacks on $250 million contracts getting benched in the NFL. And clearly, Russell Wilson took issue with the way that whole process was handled.
We heard reports very shortly after Wilson's benching that the Broncos "threatened" to make him inactive if he didn't throw out the injury guarantee in his contract for 2025, valued at a whopping $37 million. The Broncos didn't deactivate Wilson, but the team's decision to approach Wilson (confirmed by Wilson himself) was viewed extremely negatively by the masses in football media for a few reasons.
People felt Wilson's play had improved to the point that he shouldn't have been asked to come off of that injury guarantee. People view the idea of asking players to move off of injury guarantees as bad taste in the first place. Some felt like the timing of the Broncos asking Wilson this (in the midst of a winning streak, specifically during the bye week) was very poor.
Just in general, a lot of people didn't like the way it was reported that the Broncos went about approaching Russ with the idea of eliminating the injury guarantee for 2025, but you knew that the other side of the story was going to eventually come out.
And it looks like NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport got the most details, although the other side of the story was reported by a number of different insiders, including 9News Denver Broncos insider Mike Klis, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, and ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Rap Sheet's outline of the events clearly throw Russell Wilson under the bus, while previous reports from folks like Dianna Russini of The Athletic and Jordan Schultz of Bleacher Report were very "pro" Russell Wilson.
"Payton was wary of Wilson during his interview with the Broncos before they hired him last offseason, sources say. While he spoke in the interview of how to help turn him into a championship QB and how to fix him, he privately wasn't as sure it could be done. By taking the job, he committed to trying. It has not worked.- Ian Rapoport
When players watched film during the week of the past few games, they saw an endless string of open players that Wilson wasn't finding in time. Sure, the big-time plays in the fourth quarter were there, but finding the open guy in rhythm was an issue. Players saw it, and privately discussed it among themselves, sources say. Some have wondered the last few weeks if Stidham, who Payton signed early in free agency, would be better.
...Payton fumed at the lack of efficiency on a regular basis."
You can read a lot more of the details from Rapoport right here. He also outlines that the Broncos approached Wilson in the Summer as well as during the Bye week, but not about eliminating the injury guarantee -- just moving it. In theory, this would have given Russ a much better chance of being on the team in 2024, but as it stands -- and as is Wilson's right to decline -- that's not looking good at the moment.
There had been a variety of allegations that the Broncos were making a purely financial move here with Russ, and that this had nothing to do with football. If that were the case, why didn't they bench Russ sooner than this? I think this move has been percolating behind the scenes for weeks. As of the Broncos' game against Houston, in which they were an abysmal 0-for-11 on third downs, Payton was absolutely fuming.
You could tell he was developing some frustration with Wilson at this point and made that very clear during his Monday press availability. From my seat, this is a move the Broncos should have considered a while back while the playoffs were still within reach.
Of course, Russ was a huge reason why the team had made it back into the playoff race, and no one is going to deny that. Despite the team's lack of consistent offensive success, Russ was making big plays in the clutch and the Broncos were winning games. But the collapse at the end of the season had a lot to do with offensive inefficiency, and while there are obviously financial implications with Russell Wilson, to think this is all about finances is ridiculous.
The on-field product hasn't been good enough, plain and simple. Is that all on the quarterback? Absolutely not, but the way the offense is being run on a drive-to-drive basis is a lot on the quarterback. The Broncos have other issues, but this is a team that has been mostly healthy all year. They don't have the most talented roster in the NFL. But they proved they could beat some of the better teams in the league.
They did it without a good third-down offense. They did it with one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL, an offense that has ranked in the bottom 10 in percentage of first downs per pass attempt for most of the year. The Broncos overcame their deficiencies thanks to an otherworldly amount of turnovers forced and extra possessions for the offense.
But that's just context that gets lost on so many talking heads. So, while Rapoport's report looks like it's the team's side in a PR battle, I think what he's saying is probably much closer to the truth. While things like this could probably always be handled better, I don't think it was wrong for the Broncos to approach Russell Wilson. Threatening him? That would not be good, and you certainly hope that isn't true, but approaching him to help out the team with his contract?
It's not unheard of, and it's also a little hard to believe Russ would completely scoff at that when he's already guaranteed $124 million, but I'm not in that position. I said earlier this season that the only way Russell Wilson would come back to Denver in 2024 is if he revisits that 2025 option in the offseason, and it doesn't appear he's interested in doing that.
It's really a shame that it's come to this. The Russell Wilson era in Denver is seemingly about to end before his contract even kicks in. The Broncos are about to enter another offseason of QB uncertainty. You can only hope that Sean Payton has a master plan to keep this team in the playoff mix no matter who's under center.
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