$245 Million QB Russell Wilson Facing Make-or-Break Season in Denver

The Broncos can avoid future guarantees by releasing Wilson after the 2023 season

Russell Wilson warms up prior to a Broncos game.
Russell Wilson may not get a third chance in Denver.
David Eulitt/Getty

Following a first season to forget in Denver, $245-million quarterback Russell Wilson is hoping to get the Broncos back on track with former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton now roaming the sidelines at Empower Field at Mile High, following the dismissal of the dumpster fire that was Nathaniel Hackett.

Wilson, who led the Broncos to just four wins last season and only completed 60.5% of his passes for 3,524 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 15 starts, is under more pressure than previously believed to get things turned around in a hurry, as The Athletic reports there is a clause in his contract that would allow the Broncos to cut the 34-year-old before the 2024 season and save themselves $37 million in 2025. A move like that would be drastic, but it would also get the team out of an albatross of a contract that could theoretically keep Wilson with the Broncos through his age-40 season in 2028.

Cutting Wilson after this season would be a bold move by Payton and Denver’s ownership, but the 59-year-old coach, who won a Super Bowl in New Orleans and annually had the Saints ranked as one of the league’s top offenses, has been given “the green light” to build the roster and infrastructure in the way he sees fit. Should that fit no longer include Wilson if he struggles again in the 2023 season, Payton can always turn to free-agent acquisition Jarrett Stidham, 26, next season or draft his next quarterback.

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“It’s a crazy amount of money, but when you change decision-makers, I’m sure there’s going to be more information gathered before a decision is made. I wouldn’t think it’s a lock that he’s there (beyond 2023),” said former NFL general manager Randy Mueller. “I think they showed their hand by signing Jarrett Stidham and paying him [$5 million guaranteed] what they paid him. That’s the insurance against [Wilson] not improving off last year. I’m assuming Sean told [ownership], ‘I’ll do everything I can to get Russell back on track. But, at the end of the day, we’re here to win games.’ That’s the unwritten agreement I’d think he has with them. That’s just me surmising it.”

One of the top quarterbacks in the league and a Super Bowl winner during his 10 seasons in Seattle, Wilson will have every opportunity to regain his former form as cutting him will make things difficult financially for the Broncos. Difficult, but not impossible, so if the same Wilson we saw last season returns this year, he’ll be gone.

“Wilson was always going to get a second chance to lead the Broncos back into brighter days,” wrote The Athletic. “But if he doesn’t elevate his play quickly under Payton’s guidance in 2023, a third chance will be no such guarantee.”

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