Russell Wilson contract: Why Broncos benched QB for Jarrett Stidham as offense struggles, injury guarantee looms

Russell Wilson’s Broncos career could be reaching its conclusion, a little less than 18 months after the 35-year-old arrived in Denver.

Sean Payton has decided to bench Russell Wilson and will turn to backup Jarrett Stidham for the final two games of the season, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Wednesday. 

Wilson has enjoyed a better second year in Denver, throwing for 3,070 yards and 26 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. It seems the Broncos’ front office is reconsidering the veteran signal-caller’s future, even with the team still in hunt for a potential postseason spot.

Schefter indicated that Wilson’s benching had more to do with the fact that Denver had gone 1-3 in its last four games. However, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport provided additional context to the move. He labeled it as a decision aimed at “preserving financial flexibility in the offseason.”

Wilson is one of the league’s biggest names. And he’s tended to justify his marquee status with impressive performances and playoff berths. That hasn’t happened in recent times, however. And it seems like it has the Broncos ready to move on.

MORE: NFL picks, predictions against the spread for Week 17

Here’s what to know about the change in Denver. 

Russell Wilson contract

The decision to bench Wilson is two-pronged, with Payton open about his frustration with the team’s offense in recent weeks. Denver has averaged just 20.25 points in its past four games, a far cry from more explosive outings that preceded this dry spell.

Still, Wilson’s contract — and the potential albatross it could present to the Broncos’ future — cannot be ignored.

While Wilson’s contract guarantees him $39 million in 2024, it also includes a $37 million payout for 2025 that is fully guaranteed for injury through March 2024. So if Wilson were to suffer a significant injury in the final two weeks, the Broncos would run the risk of being on the hook for tens of millions more than they already are.

With Denver all but eliminated from playoff contention — the Broncos sit in 12th place in the AFC and would need an otherworldly collapse from the Chiefs to get in — it seems Denver’s front office is looking to avoid that risk and look towards the future, one that very well could not include Wilson.

Interestingly enough, Stidham has been in this position before. Just last year, he was called upon to replace Derek Carr in Las Vegas towards the end of the campaign. The Raiders hoped to prevent Carr from suffering a major injury — which would cost them $32.9 million in 2024.

He maintained a positive bill of health, in the end. And it put Vegas in great position to make a clean break with its longtime hurler in the offseason.

Denver could be looking for a similar out come the summer.

In the big picture, Wilson’s five-year deal with Denver is worth $242.6 million, of which about $85 million has already been paid out. 

Russell Wilson stats 2023

Though production has been a problem for the Broncos’ offense as a whole, Wilson’s individual numbers aren’t bad.

In fact, he enters Week 17 as the NFL’s seventh-rated passer at 98.0 The QB just behind him, Lamar Jackson at 97.2, is the oddsmakers’ new favorite to win the MVP. 

G Comp Att Pct. Yards TD INT Rating
15 297 447 66.4 3,070 26 8 98.0

Russell Wilson trade details

If this is indeed the end of the line for Wilson in Denver, the trade that brought him there will not look especially good for the Broncos upon reflection. 

In total, four players and six draft picks traded hands in one of the biggest deals in NFL history. With the trades now finalized and the last player picked, here’s what those picks turned into:

Broncos get:

  • QB Russell Wilson
  • 2022 fourth-round pick (DL Eyioma Uwazurike, Iowa State)

Seahawks get:

  • QB Drew Lock
  • DT Shelby Harris
  • TE Noah Fant
  • 2022 first-round pick (OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State)
  • 2022 second-round pick (OLB Boye Mafe, Minnesota)
  • 2022 fifth-round pick (OLB Tyreke Smith, Ohio State)
  • 2023 first-round pick (CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois)
  • 2023 second-round pick (EDGE Derick Hall, Auburn)

Broncos playoff chances

Denver is teetering on the edge of playoff elimination but not there yet. If the Broncos win their final two games, they will still have a chance to qualify for the playoffs, though they would need extraordinary amounts of help to do so. 

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