Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson voiced his frustrations with head coach Sean Payton’s decision to bench him for the team’s final two games this season.
“Definitely disappointed, definitely surprised,” Wilson said Friday, according to Zac Stevens of DNVR Broncos. “I felt like we were doing something special, rolling. And, obviously, had some tough games, though close ones, but we still got a chance.”
Payton benched Wilson for Jarrett Stidham in a stunning move Wednesday following Sunday’s home loss to the New England Patriots. Though they don’t control their own destiny, the 7-8 Broncos can still make the playoffs if they win their final two games.
Payton explained that the main reason behind his decision was to “get a spark offensively.” But benching Wilson gives Denver financial flexibility and protection, as the Broncos would be responsible for his $37-million salary before it becomes fully guaranteed in March 2024 if the veteran signal-caller suffers a serious injury. That money is guaranteed for injury only.
Wilson also confirmed the reports that Denver reached out to his representatives in late October to inform the passer that he’d lose the starting job if he didn’t defer the injury guarantee trigger date included in his contract for the 2025 season.
“They definitely told me I was going to be benched,” Wilson said.
He added: “It definitely hurt, it was a little blow.”
Wilson reportedly expects to be released when the 2024 offseason officially begins in March. He still wants to stay in Denver, though.
“I hope that it’s here for a long time,” Wilson said about what’s next for his career. “I hope that we can win more silverware in the front hall, get some more championships. And if it’s not here, then I’ll be prepared to do that somewhere else. But I hope that it’s here.”
Wilson’s benching adds to what’s been a disappointing relationship between the Broncos and Wilson, who joined the team a year before it acquired Payton as coach. Denver landed the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback in a blockbuster trade from the Seattle Seahawks during the 2022 offseason and eventually signed him to a five-year, $242.6-million contract that included $161 million guaranteed.
The Broncos have posted an 11-19 record with Wilson under center. The 35-year-old tossed 16 touchdowns to 11 interceptions last year but has improved this season, passing for 26 scores to eight picks with a 66.4% completion rate, up from 60.5% in 2022.
Wilson will be Stidham’s backup in Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Broncos will then visit the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 18.
“I have my head ready to play just in case something happens. I’m rooting for Jarrett,” Wilson added.
Stidham, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason, has yet to attempt a pass in 2023. The 27-year-old started last season’s final two games with the Raiders.