What team wouldn’t want a quarterback who led their team to a Super Bowl championship, a nine-time Pro Bowl honoree, one of the greatest dual-threat options, and a sure-fire Hall of Fame member as part of their rebuild?
From Seattle To Denver
After ten years as the face (arguably) of the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson was traded to the Denver Broncos where he signed a 5-year / $245 million deal for a team desperate to return to prominence.
In addition to three players (QB Drew Lock, DL Shelby Harris, and TE Noah Fant), the Broncos also shipped off two future first-round picks, two second-round picks, and a fifth-round pick. Sure it was a heavy haul for a player who was 33 years old and had a history of injuries and the focal point of drama within his team, but this is Russell Wilson we are talking about.
Rather than revitalizing the Broncos, the 2022 season ended up being the worst of Wilson’s career, finishing the season 4-11 with the lowest passing percentage of his tenure and the unfortunate honor of being sacked more than any other quarterback that season.
While some pointed their finger at Wilson, many more laid the blame on first-time head coach Nathaniel Hackett. Clearly, after just one season it would be too soon to give up on Wilson considering all that they traded for him. Enter option B.
Payton’s Era In The Broncos
Regardless of who was at fault in 2022, there was optimism around the Denver sports bars, according to ClutchBet, when the Broncos welcomed Sean Payton as their new head coach for the 2023 season. A pair of losses by a total of three points to start the season wasn’t exactly what Payton, Wilson or anyone associated with the Broncos had in mind for a team expected to compete for a playoff spot, even if it were a Wild Card berth.
With five losses within their first six games, the near $40 million per season that the Broncos were dishing out to Wilson looked to be a gigantic waste of money. However, a five game winning streak and six of seven mid-season earned the Broncos and Wilson some hope and optimism by the media and fans.
Wilson Gets Benched
On December 27th, 2023 the Broncos coaching staff and management decided that it was in the team’s best interest to bench their starting quarterback for the remainder of the season, even though they had a mathematical outside chance of still making the playoffs.
With obvious dissension between Wilson and Payton, who had publicly berated his starting QB mid-game just a couple of weeks prior, the Broncos turned the ball over to a journeyman quarterback with a losing record.
This would be a familiar position for Jarrett Stidham, who last season took over for Derek Carr as the Las Vegas Raider starting QB with just two games left on the schedule.
While the Broncos stated that the reason for benching Wilson was a football decision it has been viewed more as a financial one as the team requested that the star adjust the injury guarantee in his contract.
Had the Broncos continued their winning ways, chances are this matter would not have been an issue, especially if the team qualified for the postseason. Would the team and possibly Wilson have been better off if they had parted ways earlier in the season? Possibly as the Broncos would have improved their draft position, allowing them to target one of four young QB’s in Caleb Williams (USC), Drake Maye (North Carolina), Jayden Daniels (LSU) or National Champion J.J. McCarthy (Michigan, should he declare).
Is it fair that the Broncos lay blame on Wilson for their lack of success? After his terrible 2022-23 season, Russell’s 26 touchdowns (9th best in the league) and eight interceptions saw him finish with the eighth-best passer rating this season.
Who Will Be Broncos QB Next Season?
Would Wilson be willing to help the same organization that sat and embarrassed him by waiving his no-trade clause in order to find a better situation? Is there a team out there that would be willing to take on the remainder of Wilson’s hefty contract? What if the Broncos add in a variety of draft picks as compensation to sweeten the deal?
The problem at hand becomes how would Wilson want to be viewed as he is likely headed into what would be the final few years of his career. Following the drama to close out his tenure in Seattle, his terrible first season in Denver, and now a healthy benching, how would it look if Wilson stuck it to the Broncos and forced the team to eat an $85 million dead cap charge over the next two years? Should the Broncos find a trade partner willing to take Wilson and should Wilson etch out his no-trade, the Broncos would be on the hook for a $32.6 million cap hit if the deal is done before June 1st, if it is after that date, it would be nearly $17 million less.
While it seems according to some reports that everyone is saying all the right things at the moment to get what they want and what they need, this deal likely becomes one of the worst in NFL history and the inevitable split becomes messy.
Barry Lachey is a Professional Editor at Zobuz. Previously He has also worked for Moxly Sports and Network Resources “Joe Joe.” he is a graduate of the Kings College at the University of Thames Valley London. You can reach Barry via email or by phone.