The Denver Broncos have an expensive Russell Wilson problem
Broncos Country, let's ride — away from Russell Wilson.
State of play: That seems to be the prevailing thought after first-year head coach Sean Payton, who was hired to turn the Broncos around, decided to bench Wilson for the team's final two games after a Christmas Eve loss to the lowly New England Patriots.
- Denver went on to win its next game with Jarrett Stidham as quarterback.
Why it matters: The franchise has a major — and very expensive — decision to make.
- Either the team keeps Wilson around or moves on from him while absorbing $85 million in dead cap over the next two years.
Catch up quick: Denver signed Wilson to a five-year, $242.5 million contract extension in September 2022 after giving up three players and four draft picks to land him in a trade from Seattle earlier in the year.
Reality check: His stint with Denver has been largely disappointing, beginning with a 5-12 finish in his first season under former head coach Nathaniel Hackett.
- The Broncos started 1-5 this year before winning five in a row. Despite their 8-8 record, they have already been eliminated from the playoffs and never threatened the Kansas City Chiefs as a true contender in the AFC West.
Between the lines: Payton's coaching style could cloud the appeal for other quarterbacks to play in Denver.
- Payton profanely criticized Wilson's behavior — "f---ing stop kissing all the babies" — and in a game last month was seen screaming at him on the sidelines.
- Payton also lambasted Hackett, saying his lone season with Denver was "one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL."
What they're saying: "Everything he did was absolutely bush league," former NFL player Ryan Clark said, criticizing Payton's behavior during an NFL on ESPN segment last week.
- Clark suggested Wilson didn't have a chance to keep his job despite being top 10 in the NFL in passing touchdowns and top 20 in yards.
Zoom in: Stidham said Wednesday that he doesn't see the final season game as an "audition" for the starting role, only that he wants to continue winning — which could potentially set him up for a shot at the starting role next season.
Of note: The Broncos currently have the 14th pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, which they could use on a new pocket passer.
Yes, but: It's highly unlikely Denver will land any of the top prospects in this year's class, like USC's Caleb Williams, UNC's Drake Maye or LSU's Jayden Daniels.
- However, the two quarterbacks playing in next week's college football national championship game — Michigan's J.J. McCarthy and Washington's Michael Penix Jr. — could be available.
What we're watching: A decision on Wilson's future since keeping him will cost about the same as moving on, the NFL Network reports.
- Denver could also look to trade him to a team, like the Atlanta Falcons, who are in need of a major upgrade at quarterback.
What's next: The Broncos travel to Las Vegas on Sunday to face the Raiders in their last game of the season.
More Denver stories
No stories could be found
Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.