Will the Broncos move on from Russell Wilson after 2023?

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When the Broncos traded quarterback Russell Wilson in March 2022, he didn’t get a new contract. As the 2022 regular season approaches, he did just that.

That contract now becomes a major consideration as it relates to Wilson’s future with the team.

Broncos coach Sean Payton is a firm believer in admitting mistakes and correcting them. Doubling down will only make the situation worse. The Broncos will face a major dual decision in about five months.

Wilson’s contract includes a base salary of $37 million in 2025. This amount is currently covered against injury. On the fifth day of March in the 2024 league year, it will become fully guaranteed. The Broncos can avoid that obligation only by trading him (unlikely) or cutting him before the payment becomes fully guaranteed.

Considering Wilson’s performance thus far from all of 2022 into the first six games of 2023 (95 yards passing last night), the Broncos need to ask themselves whether removing the Band-Aid makes sense. Yes, there will be cap consequences if they move forward. Failure to do so will also have capping consequences.

Let’s start with the cap ramifications if they release him before the next major comp portion is fully guaranteed and specifies after June 1.

First, they will collect $10 million of his 2024 signing bonus. They also have to factor in his $17 million fully guaranteed salary and $22 million in fully guaranteed option bonuses.

If they exercise the 2024 option bonus before cutting him, the Broncos would be on the hook for $8.4 million in dead money on the 2023 and 2024 option bonuses. That’s assuming the league allows the Broncos to exercise the option bonus and then immediately rips up the contract.

If so, the Broncos will have $18.4 million in dead money in 2024, along with $17 million in guaranteed salary that will be offset elsewhere. Where he goes next and what he’ll be paid will be interesting wrinkles. He could sit out the year and earn a total of $39 million. Unless someone offers him more than $17 million in 2024, he’ll play for free.

In this scenario, the Broncos would also be charged a flat cap fee in 2025. Those amounts will come from a prorated portion of the remaining signing bonus ($20 million) and a prorated portion of the remaining option bonus ($29.6 million). Dead money charges in 2005 totaled $49.6 million, and dead money charges in 2024 will range from as little as $18.4 million to as much as $35.4 million.

(If the option bonus is fully factored into 2024, the cap charge would increase to $53 million next year but drop to $32 million in 2025.)

Regardless, the Broncos will take on a total of $85 million in dead money charges spread over two years. It seems like a lot. (Because it is.) However, let’s consider the ramifications of keeping him beyond Day 5 of the league in 2024.

The $39 million in compensation for 2024 is fully guaranteed. Another $37 million will become fully guaranteed through the fifth day of the league in 2024. His 2024 salary cap hit is currently $35.4 million. In 2025, this figure is $55.4 million. If he stays with the team for the next two years, his cap hit will be $90.4 million.

Therefore, the Broncos would actually have less cash ($37 million less) and lower cap charges ($5.4 million less) by cutting him.

The only question arises from the possibility of a restructuring deal in 2024 and/or 2025, pushing some of those millions into future years. Many contracts give teams the right to automatically implement this feature at no cost to the player. (Eventually, every dollar will eventually hit the cap.)

It’s also possible the Broncos could ask Wilson to take less money in 2024 and/or 2025. To do that, he has to be willing to admit to himself and others that he didn’t deliver on the huge deal the Broncos gave him before he even wore a Denver uniform in the regular season.

However, if he wants to stay with the Broncos (who knows at this point?), he may have to lighten his overall financial burden over the next two years. Given his current career trajectory, it might make more sense for the Broncos to cut their losses, release Wilson, save $37 million, and continue to work under the salary cap over the next two years than his salary cap hit. Stay on the team.

At the very least, the Broncos should consider this option. If/when the decision is made to bench Wilson for Jarrett Stidham later this year, the message will be (just like when Derek Carr backs up Stidham in 2022) that the Broncos want to keep Wilson healthy so they can release him before the next $37 million in injury guarantees becomes inevitable.

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