Russell Wilson trade officially the worst deal in NFL history

Things with the Denver Broncos and Russell Wilson did not go as hoped.

Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

The Denver Broncos are officially moving on from quarterback Russell Wilson, which means we can effectively say that their 2022 blockbuster deal with the Seattle Seahawks was the worst trade blunder in NFL history.

The Broncos' blockbuster with Seattle involved two first-round picks, two second-round picks, quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant, and defensive lineman Shelby Harris going to the Seahawks with Wilson and a fourth-round pick coming to Denver. At the time the deal was made, there was virtually no price that Broncos fans would have scoffed at if it meant getting a legitimate franchise QB in the building, and many assumed Wilson would be exactly that.

Unfortunately, that included both GM George Paton and the new ownership group in Denver, who agreed to a massive contract extension with Russell Wilson just a handful of months after the trade went down, the biggest deal in Denver Broncos history at five years, $243 million with $124 million in practical guarantees.

Now, the Broncos will take on the biggest dead money hit for any individual player in NFL history at $85 million. The dead cap hit for Russell Wilson is more than the next two biggest dead money hits combined (Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan). It's a really sad moment for Denver Broncos fans, and it's really unfortunate that things didn't work out.

But Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton is convinced that Wilson isn't his guy moving forward, and perhaps he is convinced that the next Denver Broncos franchise QB is out there somewhere in the 2024 offseason. In fact, he'd better be convinced of it. He's putting a ton of pressure on himself by making this move, which obviously had to be approved by the Walton-Penner ownership group.

As of right now, the Broncos are on the hook for $39 million in 2024, fully guaranteed cash going to Russell Wilson. That number will go down based on whatever Wilson signs for whenever he joins another NFL team. It's been assumed that Wilson will sign for the veteran minimum of roughly $1.2 million in order to both help his new team in terms of the salary cap as well as stick the Broncos with the remainder of the bill.

So, at most, it looks like the Broncos will be on the hook for about $37.8 million in 2024, but they don't owe Wilson any more guaranteed cash after this year. One of the biggest reasons why Denver is moving on from Wilson now instead of later is because if Wilson was on the roster as of March 17, there would be a trigger in his contract to fully guarantee $37 million in cash for 2025. The Broncos don't want to pay Wilson that additional $37 million, and Wilson wasn't going to move that guarantee for the team.

And that leads us to where we are today. The Broncos are officially in the market for a new franchise quarterback -- again -- and Russell Wilson will be a free agent for the first time in his NFL career.

There is not any singular person to blame for how things went with the Russell Wilson era in Denver. GM George Paton took a swing on a quarterback who had won more games in his first 10 NFL seasons than any other in league history. Former head coach Nathaniel Hackett played his part. Injuries played their part (including injuries to Russ). Wilson not being a fit for either Hackett/Sean Payton played a role.

The arrival of Wilson in Denver was nothing like the arrival of Peyton Manning in Denver back in 2012. Manning was the tide that raised all boats in the harbor. Wilson seemingly needs the exact right environment to excel. Even though Wilson had some great moments in Denver, it became abundantly clear that he wasn't going to be a long-term option when Sean Payton benched him with two games remaining in 2023.


Although this all looks ugly on paper, the QB position is one you have to get right. Sean Payton is going to pick his own guy and attach his name to someone he chooses, not someone that was chosen for him.

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