Why did the Broncos release Russell Wilson? Contract issues lead Denver to cut ties with big-money QB

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Russell Wilson’s time in the Mile High City came to an unceremonious end Monday afternoon.

The Broncos cut ties with their big-money passer, saving the franchise a boatload while allowing Wilson to pursue a starting position elsewhere.

The news was reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Denver confirmed the report shortly thereafter, with general manager George Paton and head coach Sean Payton releasing a joint statement thanking Wilson for his two seasons with the team.

MORE: Revisiting the deal that sent Russell Wilson to Denver

Wilson took to X, the website formerly known as Twitter, to offer his thanks to the franchise that dealt for him two years ago. Wilson inked a five-year, $245 million extension with Denver shortly after arriving.

MORE: Why Russell Wilson may sign for veteran minimum after Broncos release

“Over these last two years, you have welcomed my family and me with open arms and have embraced us as members of the Denver community,” Wilson wrote. “This city will always hold a special place in my heart. Our family grew here, we made countless memories and friendships, and formed relationships that will last a lifetime.”

Wilson ends his tenure in Empower Field with 6,594 yards, 42 passing touchdowns, and 19 interceptions. By releasing him before March 13 — the official start of the league’s 2024 calendar — the Broncos avoided paying the 35-year-old QB $37 million in 2025. Denver is still required to pay $85 million in dead money related to guarantees placed in Wilson’s deal.

Why did the Broncos release Russell Wilson?

Wilson’s dismissal as starting quarterback seems almost entirely due to the conditions of his contract.

Despite stringing together a decent 2023 — Wilson threw for 3,070 yards, 26 touchdowns, and eight interceptions while leading the Broncos on a five-game winning streak to thrust them back into playoff contention — Wilson’s deal was a sore one for Denver’s front office brass.

When the Broncos acquired his services, Wilson still had two years remaining on the existing contract he signed with the Seahawks back in 2019. Denver proceeded to offer him another five years worth of money to retain his services. 

His struggles in 2022 were the first sign that all was not well between Wilson and his employers. He put together the worst year of his professional career, spurning his usual efficient passing for errant throws and interceptions. Wilson finished the year with 16 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and below-average showings across the board when it came to advanced analytics.

Sean Payton’s arrival in 2023 looked to offer Wilson a chance at a refresh. In many ways, it did. The Super Bowl-winning boss struck up quite the partnership with Wilson, particularly during a five-game winning run that had Denver bumping shoulders with the league’s elite.

The Broncos’ offense stagnated as the year wore on, though. And after a shocking loss to the lowly Patriots, Payton swapped QBs, selecting Jarrett Stindham to stand in for Denver’s high-profile starter.

Wilson’s release will cost the Broncos a pretty penny. Given the fact that the Broncos hadn’t actually paid Wilson on his extension — remember, he had yet to play for the franchise on his big-money extension — Denver is on the hook for some serious bread. The Broncos owe $85 million in dead money after removing Wilson from their roster. They can choose to keep that debt on their 2024 cap or split the charges over the ’24 and ’25 seasons, depending on the release designation they opt for.

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