Maybe don't put your Russell Wilson jerseys in a box in the basement just yet. The situation between the Denver Broncos and Wilson could be taking a dramatic turn, although it's impossible to know what you can and can't believe at this time of year.
We are now just one month away from NFL free agency, one of the major perks of the NFL season finishing a week later than it used to (now that there is an 18th week of the regular season). The offseason just seems to get into full swing a little bit quicker than it used to. But with that in mind, the Denver Broncos have a decision to make on starting QB Russell Wilson, who was benched for the final two games last year as head coach Sean Payton was seeking a "spark" for his offense.
While it looked like we were seeing some passing game concepts that weren't previously being utilized with Russell Wilson under center, there wasn't much of a "spark" to the offense under Jarrett Stidham overall.
The benching of Russell Wilson has led many to believe that the Broncos will be moving on from Mr. Unlimited this offseason, regardless of the cost. And the cost is pretty great, if you didn't know. To be specific, the Broncos are already on the hook for $39 million fully guaranteed for Wilson in 2024. The controversy surrounding his benching late in the season was a trigger for the 2025 season which goes into effect on March 17, 2024. That trigger is worth $37 million and is guaranteed for injury.
Now that he's made it to the offseason fully healthy, the Broncos have the choice of whether or not they want to exercise that option (by having Russ on the roster in mid-March) or cut bait now and save the $37 million in cash for 2025.
It's the idea of saving $37 million in cash for 2025 along with the idea of simply starting fresh at QB that leads many to believe the Broncos will ultimately pull the plug on Russell Wilson as their starter, but the idea of Wilson sticking around in 2024 has been gaining some significant steam lately.
And that means we could be in for a dramatic, shocking twist to this whole Russell Wilson-Sean Payton-Denver Broncos saga.
In addition to Ian Rapoport seemingly not closing the door on Russell Wilson returning to Denver, we've heard other NFL insiders say similar things such as Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. We also heard Sean Payton say something similar during his media tour at the Super Bowl. Payton even went so far as to say that Russ "wants" to be back in Denver. Payton also said the fact that Russ wants to be back in Denver is important.
Take that for what you will at this point. It could just be that Payton is covering his tracks and making sure he is on record as having kept all options on the table with Russ. Every other indication at this point has been that the Broncos and Wilson will be moving on from each other. How could the relationship between Payton and Wilson be salvaged after everything that has come out about the Broncos allegedly doing Russ dirty by "threatening" him amidst a winning streak? Or the fact that the Broncos were clearly upset with the way Russ was playing citing his benching as a need for a spark in the offense?
The $39 million looms large here. Perhaps the two sides can let bygones be bygones if the Broncos determine that there are not viable alternatives for 2024, but that may come down to how comfortable Sean Payton is with Jarrett Stidham entering the season as his QB1. That's not the only option, but it's currently the "floor" for the Broncos if all else fails.
$39 million is a lot of money to pay someone to play for another team. Even the richest ownership group in American pro sports might not want to foot that bill.
According to Sean Payton, the Broncos will be informing Russell Wilson of their decision sooner rather than later. They have had meetings since the season ended with Wilson, and there have been rumblings that Wilson may be amenable to discussing some of the parameters of his contract.
But at this point, it's hard to believe Russ would bend over backwards to stay in Denver unless he's been allowed quietly to shop his services around the league. There are people who say Russ will certainly have options as a starter going forward, and there are some who believe he might have to accept a backup role at his next NFL stop. Who knows?
Whatever is happening behind the scenes, it's going to be fascinating to see what unfolds. It wouldn't be shocking if we had definitive answers in the next week or two, but that's purely a guess. As for right now, it seems like -- even if it's just PR -- there is a chance Wilson could be back in Denver, which would be a shocking turn of events.