Zach Wilson In Uphill Battle To Be Broncos’ Backup QB?

Ahead of training camp, the Broncos have a quarterback who spent a season in Sean Payton‘s offense and another the team drafted in the first round. Zach Wilson looms as a wild card.

As Jarrett Stidham enjoys an advantage from spending 2023 in Denver and Bo Nix likely to start the majority (barring injury) of the Broncos’ games this season, Wilson sits in an unusual position. The Broncos and Jets agreed on a salary compromise to facilitate a trade finalized days before the draft, but the former No. 2 overall pick is not a lock to secure a spot on the team’s 53-man roster.

[RELATED: Broncos Decline Zach Wilson’s Fifth-Year Option]

Stidham and Wilson may well be vying for one roster spot, and The Athletic’s Nick Kosmider notes the latter has some ground to close if he is to be Denver’s backup to begin the season (subscription required). The Denver Post’s Parker Gabriel also views Wilson as in third place in this competition exiting minicamp.

In terms of arm talent, Wilson did reveal an advantage over the other two Denver QBs during on-field workouts. This has not exactly been the BYU alum’s issue during his NFL career, with a dazzling pro day leading to the Jets deciding to select him second overall and trade Sam Darnold. Wilson quickly revealed himself to be a poor decision-maker with inconsistent mechanics in New York, leading to multiple 2022 benchings and another demotion — for a player (Tim Boyle) Robert Saleh admitted was less talented — late last season.

Payton said (via’s Jeff Legwold) he does not have a hard deadline — before game week, that is — on deciding if Nix, Stidham or Wilson will be his Week 1 starter. A recent report pointed to the job being Nix’s to lose. Considering the Broncos’ investment in the recent Oregon standout, it would be stunning if the No. 12 overall pick was not in the lineup early in the season. As of now, Stidham appears to have the better shot among the veterans of delaying Nix’s debut.

Payton regularly kept two quarterbacks on his active roster in New Orleans, doing so before the NFL reimplemented the emergency third-QB rule. The league further increasing flexibility for teams regarding their QB3 spot keeps the door open for the loser of the Wilson-Stidham competition to end up on the practice squad. Though, select teams could certainly eye the competition’s odd man out for an active-roster role. Wilson would need to be exposed to waivers if cut, whereas Stidham is a vested veteran. If the Broncos waive Wilson, they would be hit with $2.7MM in dead money. This would obviously represent another setback for a once-coveted prospect.

The Broncos, of course, are in Year 1 of a record-setting dead money process stemming from their Russell Wilson release. A minor guarantee for Zach Wilson might not move the needle too much when Payton decides on his backup.

Stidham is attached to a two-year, $10MM deal, but just $1MM of his 2024 base salary ($4.49MM) is guaranteed. As a vested vet, Stidham will see the rest of that money become locked in just before the season. Denver trading one of the veterans, while adding another QB to be its emergency option on the P-squad, also would seem to be on the table. The preseason’s conclusion has been a trade window for many years.

Stidham or Wilson seeing significant playing time this year will mean something has gone wrong, as Nix is 24 and set the Division I-FBS record for quarterback starts. Training camp and the preseason will bring more important reps for Wilson, but after being paid to leave the Jets, the erratic talent — who arrived after the Broncos’ offseason program had begun — looks to be falling behind with his new team.

View Comments (22)