The Denver Broncos were sold in 2022, just months after Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was traded. The new ownership group agreed to a new contract with Wilson just weeks after the sale closed, before Wilson even wore a Broncos uniform in the regular season. It was an unmitigated disaster, and neither side was able to get out of it anytime soon.
The Broncos’ new owners have deep pockets, but they can’t help this time. The issue with moving on from Wilson isn’t paying him, it’s the salary cap.
Denver is paying Wilson $57 million in 2022 and $28 million in 2023, but with proration and bonuses, they only account for $39 million of the $85 million in cap value. When you leave a player, the difference between the funds paid and the funds taken accelerates into the current year and is called “dead cap” space. For Denver and Wilson, that number is $46 million.
By itself, this would be the largest death cap number in NFL history. The Falcons have a $40.53 million dead cap hit when they move on from Matt Ryan in 2022, followed closely by Aaron Rodgers who has a dead cap hit in 2023 for $40.3 million. The Packers and Falcons have enough salary cap space to manage this, and the quarterbacks are ready. Ease this situation with rookie deals. Denver, on the other hand, is one of the teams with the least cap space in 2023 and beyond, and absorbing such a fatal blow isn’t really an option.
The Denver Nuggets are already $19.1 million over the 2024 salary cap, according to Spotrac. Replacing Wilson’s existing cap number with a dead cap number would increase Denver’s 2024 cap number by $32 million, putting them more than $51 million over the cap. To do that, they’d have to convince a team to miraculously trade their starting quarterback and his massive $86 million salary in 2024 and 2025.
Cutting Wilson’s position would make the numbers even worse. His 2024 salary ($17 million) and option bonus ($22 million) are fully guaranteed and therefore need to be factored in as well. This adds another $39 million in idle cap to the existing $46 million in idle cap, for a total idle cap of $85 million, more than double the largest idle cap in NFL history. That’s one-third of the total projected salary cap for the 2024 season, and that’s for a player who isn’t even on your team!
For the cap, replacing Wilson’s actual cap number with an astronomical dead cap figure would leave Denver $68.7 million over the 2024 cap hit. No amount of cap magic or Walmart money will fix this. They need to significantly trim their roster and replace veterans with the minimum number of players.This will be the original team major alliances movie (or currently the Oakland Athletics).
Perhaps the worst part of this whole situation is that it’s self-inflicted. Wilson had two years left on his contract when he was traded.He has never scored low for them and they still want him to sign a contract 7 years to justify their investment.
To add insult to injury, the Broncos have taken the most obvious action they could have taken. They fired head coach and playmaker Nathaniel Hackett in December 2022, before he even completed his first season as Wilson’s coach. They replaced him with highly regarded offensive phenom Sean Payton.
Payton took over in the offseason and harshly rebuked Hackett’s coaching and the way Wilson ran the team in his first year. Now, he’s just the second coach who can’t help Wilson. Are they going to dump that guy for a third coach in three years to fix the quarterback?
In March 2024, when the NFL league year begins, $37 million of Wilson’s 2025 salary will become fully guaranteed, further prolonging the madness. They need to wait until 2025 to bite the bullet. If they release him before the 2025 season, his actual salary cap hit will be “only” $49.6 million, which will actually save Denver $5.8 million against the salary cap for that year.
Buckle up, Broncos fans. You have at least 17 more months to keep Russ moping.