Quarterback Russell Wilson expects to be released by the Denver Broncos in March, sources told The Athletic’s Dianna Russini.
The Broncos reportedly reached out to Wilson’s representatives in late October to inform the veteran signal-caller that he would lose the starting job and be made inactive for the rest of the season if he didn’t defer the injury guarantee trigger date included in his contract for the 2025 season.
Multiple lawyers – including some representing the NFLPA – were involved in the situation, but no changes were made to Wilson’s deal, according to Russini.
On Wednesday, the Broncos benched Wilson for the final two games of the 2023 campaign.
“We’re desperately trying to win,” Denver head coach Sean Payton said, according to Zac Stevens of DNVR Broncos. “Sure, in our game today, there are economics and all those other things, but the No. 1 push behind this, and the decision I’m making, is to get a spark offensively.”
The veteran coach added that he hasn’t met with general manager George Paton and the Broncos ownership group to discuss the team’s future at quarterback beyond 2023, according to Stevens.
If Wilson suffers a serious injury, the Broncos are responsible for his $37 million salary before it becomes fully guaranteed in March 2024. That money is currently guaranteed for injury only, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. Benching Wilson gives Denver financial flexibility and protection.
Jarrett Stidham will start the final two games, beginning with Sunday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers.
“One of the things we saw when we signed Stidham in the offseason was not only film from preseason games, but regular-season games, and he’s a guy I’m anxious to see play,” Payton said of Denver’s new starter. “If I didn’t feel like he gave us a chance to win, we wouldn’t be making that move.”
Payton also confirmed that Wilson will still dress and serve as the No. 2 quarterback in Week 17.
The Broncos acquired the former Seattle Seahawks passer for a package that included two first-round picks, two second-round selections, and Drew Lock during the 2022 offseason. Denver intended to find its first franchise quarterback since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 season, subsequently signing Wilson to a five-year, $242.6-million contract that contained $161 million in guaranteed money.
But the acquisition hasn’t worked out like the Broncos hoped it would.
In Wilson’s first season in Denver, head coach Nathaniel Hackett was fired just 15 games into the campaign. The veteran quarterback failed to impress as he posted his worst record as a starter (4-11) while setting career lows in completion percentage (60.5%), passing touchdowns (16), and passer rating (84.4).
The Broncos hired Sean Payton as their head coach this offseason in an attempt to salvage their offense and their quarterback. Wilson’s numbers have improved, as he’s thrown 26 touchdowns to eight interceptions, but he’s averaging a career-worst 6.9 yards per pass attempt. Denver is also averaging just 21.9 points per game while the offense is 25th in total yardage.
Stidham, who signed a two-year, $10-million deal in the offseason, found himself in an identical situation last year: He ended the 2022-23 campaign as the Las Vegas Raiders’ starting quarterback after Derek Carr was benched to avoid injury risks in his contract. Carr was subsequently released by the Raiders.
The Broncos are still alive in the AFC playoff race with a 7-8 record, though they do not control their own destiny. Denver’s gone 1-3 over its last four games with Wilson’s play receiving heavy criticism. He’s thrown six touchdowns to four interceptions during that span.