It was the super-trade meant to save fallen NFL giant. 21 months later, it’s just a $305m anchor

One of the biggest and boldest trades in NFL history has turned into a nightmare for the Denver Broncos, who are about to pull the ripcord – with no real escape plan.

Less than two years after a massive trade from Seattle, which itself followed years of frustration with the Seahawks coaching staff, Wilson has been benched for Jarrett Stidham and will reportedly be cut in March.

The benching is an effort to save $US37 million for an injury guarantee which would trigger if Wilson was seriously hurt in either of the Broncos’ two remaining games. Las Vegas did the same thing with Derek Carr last season before he moved to New Orleans, where he hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire.

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The problem is Wilson still has $US39 million guaranteed for the 2024 season because of the huge contract extension he signed when he was dealt from the Seahawks.

If he’s cut in March, it’ll result in a devastating near-$US50 million in dead money on the Broncos’ 2024 salary cap. But if he’s cut after June 1, the dead money will be spread slightly more evenly over two seasons, resulting in a total commitment of $A305 million (salary and dead money).

Remarkably if Wilson does leave the Broncos before the 2024 season, as now seems certain, he will do so having not played a single down on the contract extension he signed when traded to the club.

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Wilson struggled significantly in 2022 following a trade from Seattle, and there were constant questions about his relationship this year with Payton, which flared up more recently after broadcast cameras caught the Broncos coach chewing out the QB during a Dec. 16 loss.

During his Wednesday press conference, Payton tried to push back on the notion that Wilson’s benching happened because of the contract stipulation.

“I understand all the speculation and everything that surrounds a move like that,” Payton told reporters on Wednesday. “I can tell you, we’re desperately trying to win. Sure in our game today there are economics and all those other things, but the number one push behind this — and it’s a decision I’m making — is to get a spark offensively.”

When a reporter pressed him about the financial implications of the benching, Payton shot back that if that was the case, the team could’ve made the move sooner.

Defensive tackle Christian Barmore #90 of the New England Patriots chases Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos during the 3rd quarter of the game at Empower Field At Mile High on December 24, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)Source: AFP

Wilson threw for 3,070 yards with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season, an improvement from the previous year. The Broncos’ offence ranks just 16th in scoring (21.8 points per game).

Over two years with the Broncos, Wilson has started 30 games and has thrown for 6594 yards, 42 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.

But while his surface numbers look solid – he has the seventh-best passer rating in the league – more advanced stats suggest he’s just mediocre, ranking 21st in ESPN’s QBR.

He’s simply not the superstar he was at times with the Seahawks, and on one of the league’s richest contracts, the Broncos felt he was never going to be worth it. Moving on from the sunk cost became a necessary evil, even if they’re not exactly well-positioned to get a top rookie prospect in the draft.

Someone like Chicago’s Justin Fields would make sense as a 2024 option, probably costing a second-round pick in a trade, or a second-tier QB prospect in the upcoming draft like Michigan’s JJ McCarthy or LSU’s Heisman winner Jayden Daniels.

Right now they own Pick 14, in a logjam of teams sitting 7-8, and the selection could yet move into the top 10 if they lose out against the Chargers and Raiders – or rise into the early 20s if they sneak into the playoffs.

The Wilson decision also brings an early end to the supposed dream combination of QB and Super Bowl-winning coach Sean Payton – and the relationship breakdown is part of the problem in Denver, according to ex-NFL QB Robert Griffin III.

Following the news that Wilson, 35, would be benched for the Broncos’ final two games in favour of Jarrett Stidham, Griffin criticised Payton, 59, for his perceived lack of support for his signal-caller.

“Russell Wilson’s biggest opposition this year was Sean Payton,” RGIII, an ESPN analyst, wrote in an X post Wednesday.

“Embarrassed him in the media, on the sideline and every chance he got. After a long year of showing the locker room that Russ was never his guy, he benched him despite his improved play.”

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Russell Wilson never lived up to the billing in Denver. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Payton and Wilson have been under the microscope all year since the former Saints boss took over the job in Denver.

Questions have surrounded the two’s relationship, and that flared up after Payton was caught yelling at Wilson on the sideline during the Broncos’ 42-17 blowout loss to the Lions on Dec. 16.

Both Wilson and Payton sidestepped questions about the incident, which was the second consecutive week that the coach had a heated interaction with the QB.

But now, the organisation will have to deal with the speculation that comes with the type of move they made Wednesday.

While the Broncos are still in the playoff hunt (with 8 per cent odds to make the postseason), they’ll face plenty of questions about Wilson’s future with the organisation after this season.

On Wednesday, Payton acknowledged that those questions would come but implied the move was made because the Broncos are “desperately trying to win.”

This article used portions of articles originally published at the New York Post, which were republished with permission.

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