Broncos Release Russell Wilson

MARCH 13: The Broncos have officially released Wilson, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. This paves the way for the quarterback to officially ink a contract with the Steelers.

Denver designated Wilson as a post-June 1 cut, meaning the team will take on dead cap hits of $53MM in 2024 and $32MM in 2025. According to Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac, the team will absorb the pricier of the two hits this year. The $53MM hit represents the priciest dead cap hit in NFL history, topping the Falcons’ $40.5MM Matt Ryan number from 2022, and it will account for 20.5 percent of the team’s adjusted salary cap in 2024. Still, this was the expected move, as the Broncos’ decision to cut Wilson after the start of free agency made the designation possible.

MARCH 4: As expected, Russell Wilson‘s Broncos tenure will end after two seasons. The team announced on Monday that the former Super Bowl winner will be released after the start of the new league year.

Wilson has confirmed the move in a farewell message to Denver after a short-lived stint in the city. Acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Seahawks in 2022, he endured a highly underwhelming first campaign with the Broncos. Improvement was seen under Sean Payton this past year, but the 35-year-old’s fate appeared to be sealed when he was benched late in the campaign.

That decision (which came after the team’s playoff chances had essentially been extinguished) was driven in part by Denver’s attempts to have Wilson push back the vesting date for his 2025 injury guarantee. The nine-time Pro Bowler declined to do so, and no adjustments were ultimately made to his pact – a five-year, $245MM extension inked not long after arriving in the Mile High City. Given the other compensation already owed, though, the Broncos will be hit with a considerable cap crunch by moving on.

Denver would have incurred an $85MM dead cap charge be releasing Wilson right away. By waiting until after the start of free agency (March 13), the option of designating him a post-June 1 release will come into play. That route will not yield any cap savings and produce $35.4MM in dead money in 2024, but the financial outlook in 2025 and beyond will be much more positive from the team’s perspective (although the $85MM will remain on the team’s cap sheet until June 2). Denver owes Wilson $39MM this season, a portion of which will be offset once he signs with a new team.

Given the guaranteed compensation coming the way of the former Walton Payton Man of the Year winner, though, many have speculated he will sign for the league minimum with an interested team. The market Wilson will now generate will be a key offseason storyline and represent one of the major dominoes in the 2024 QB carousel. His play under Payton (26:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 98.0 passer rating) was not sufficient for the parties to continue their relationship, but it could encourage QB-needy teams to at least take a flier on him.

Wilson made it clear in the wake of his benching that he intended to remain in Denver for 2024 and beyond, but he also acknowledged the strong possibility he would be let go. Now that the team’s decision is clear, he can turn his attention to the third chapter of his career. Following a decorated Seattle stint including a pair of Super Bowl appearances, Wilson will need to rebuild his value with his next opportunity.

For the Broncos, meanwhile, today’s news confirms the post-Peyton Manning situation under center has still not been resolved on a long-term basis. The Broncos’ Week 1 starter in 2024 will be their seventh different signal-caller to start a campaign in the nine years since Manning’s retirement. Payton has publicly endorsed Jarrett Stidham (who took over from Wilson), but a draft investment would come as no surprise.

Denver is among the teams which have been tapped as a potential trade-up candidate. The Broncos’ ability to stay within striking distance of the playoffs for much of the year left them 12th in the draft order as things stand. Several of the 2024 class’ top passers will be off the board by that point, so an aggressive (and, in terms of draft capital, costly) move will be required to get access to them. Failing that, a second-tier option at the QB spot such as J.J. McCarthy or Bo Nix would be on the team’s radar, and Denver has done homework on that pair.

Regardless of the route taken, expectations will be on Payton to deliver the offensive turnaround his acquisition was in large part predicated on. The longtime Saints head coach brought considerable pedigree with him after a season away from the sidelines, but a disappointing result emerged in his first year. The second will involve a new face under center, just as Wilson will find himself in a different situation.

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