The Russell Wilson era isn’t officially over in Denver. But after being benched for Jarrett Stidham with two weeks left in the 2023 season in a move that’s equal parts cost conscious and bold statement, it’s not a stretch to suggest things are winding down to a conclusion. Less than two years after the Broncos made a massive splash by trading for, then extending, the perennial Pro Bowler, Denver is primed to put him in its rear view.
Wilson was supposed to be the second coming of Peyton Manning. The former Indianapolis Colt came to a franchise stuck in purgatory and led it to immediate success, culminating in a world title. Wilson wasn’t cut from the same cloth and was considerably more expensive to acquire from Seattle, but he had been an annual playoff participant with his own Super Bowl history. He was supposed to be the rocket boost that took a team in a six-year playoff drought back to green pastures.
Instead, the 2022 Broncos were a disaster amidst Wilson’s struggles. Things were better in 2023, but while a 1-5 start gave way to an unlikely playoff push, three losses in the team’s last four games — the last coming against a bad New England Patriots team at home as a seven point favorite — sealed Wilson’s fate this winter and likely beyond.
Benching Wilson ensures he won’t get injured on the field, triggering what would have been a $37 million guarantee for 2025. He’s currently in the second year of a $245 million extension signed after arriving in Colorado. If he’s on the roster (or unable to pass a physical) on the fifth day of the league year next March, that $37 million is locked in. By benching him now, the Broncos are signaling their willingness to eat $85 million in dead salary cap space by releasing him next spring.
Without any future starts guaranteed, it feels like time to properly addess exactly what Denver paid to acquire Wilson and what the franchise got in return. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it’s not good.
*in terms of efficiency, Wilson’s 0.035 adjusted expected points added (EPA) per play ranks 27th out of 48 starting quarterbacks since 2022.