Russell Wilson benched by Denver Broncos to preserve cap flexibility

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson will ride the pine. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Wilson will go to the bench for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Backup Jarrett Stidham, a free-agent pickup last March, will start in his place.

Broncos coach Sean Payton told Wilson on Wednesday morning that he’d be on the bench. After that, he told the entire team of the move, according to Schefter.

And with that, it appears the curtain will descend on Wilson’s time with the Broncos after just two seasons, neither of which could be considered successful relative to the massive expectations created when the Broncos traded for him in March 2022.

The Broncos acquired Wilson from the Seahawks for a haul that included two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round pick, tight end Noah Fant, quarterback Drew Lock and defensive lineman Shelby Harris.

Why did the Broncos bench QB Russell Wilson?

Benching Wilson is a sign that the Broncos are poised to move on from him in the offseason even though the Broncos will face a massive $85 million dead money figure if they cut him in March. The Broncos can designate Wilson as a post-June 1 cut and spread the hit out over two years, leaving them with salary-cap dead-money figures of $35.4 million in 2024 and $49.6 million in 2025.

Those will hurt. But if the Broncos have Wilson on the roster for the fifth day of the next league year (March 17) another $37 million will add to the Broncos’ commitment to Wilson. That represents the figure of his 2025 base salary.

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As a result, if the Broncos waited until the 2025 offseason to cut Wilson, their total dead-money hit over two years would be $86 million — even higher than the dead-money charge if they release him in March.

The $37 million base salary in 2025 is guaranteed for injury. Thus, if Wilson were to play in either of the last two games and be injured, the Broncos would be stuck with that guarantee — and thus, stuck with Wilson.

A similar situation played out in Las Vegas last year. In that instance, the Raiders benched Derek Carr rather than play him in the season’s last two games. Coincidentally, the Raiders started Stidham in his place.

Stidham is certainly a candidate to start in 2024, but if the Broncos move on from Wilson, they would be expected to target another quarterback in the NFL Draft or in free agency — although the anvil of Wilson’s contract would likely limit their options in the latter pool.

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