DENVER — His team in a 1-3 spiral, playoff hopes flickering, Broncos coach Sean Payton benched Russell Wilson on Wednesday, framing it as a football decision for an “average to below average” offense that needed a spark. Friday, Wilson told his side of the story, explaining that the Broncos spoke with his agent in October about benching him if he did not push back the 2025 $37 million injury guarantee in his contract from the vesting date of March 17, 2024.
The team, which first broached the contract discussion in the summer per a source, viewed it as a way to make it a two-year decision, buying time to find a path forward for Wilson in the organization. Wilson reacted with disappointment, seeing it as a lack of support for him after the Broncos had just beaten the Chiefs, and declined to alter his contract. So, one side sees it as a football decision. The other views it as an economic decision. The Broncos had the right to ask Wilson to alter his contract and he had the right to say no.
The reality is that Wilson, who has a no-trade clause, is expected to be cut this offseason as a June 1 designation rather than work with the team to stay or facilitate a deal. The salary cap ramifications will be significant – $35.4 million in 2024 and $49.6 million in 2025. Wilson knows coach Sean Payton does not believe he gives the Broncos the best chance to win.
For Wilson, who remains the backup, it is tough because he boasts 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions, solid numbers. However, the Broncos rank 25th in passing yards per game (187.5), 25th in total yards (298.2), 27th in sacks allowed (45) and 22nd in red zone touchdown percentage (50.9). Clearly, Payton believes the offense is not reaching its potential, that Wilson is leaving plays on the field, thus he went to Jarrett.
Jarrett Stidham receives his opportunity Sunday vs. the Chargers. Payton identified him as a top target last offseason, signing him on the first day of free agency to a two-year, $10 million contract. If Stidham plays well over the final two weeks, he becomes a candidate to start next season. Payton wants to reach nine wins, and, with some luck, that leads to a playoff berth. For the organization, he has made it clear it matters to end the team’s streak of six straight losing seasons as it moves forward (Look no further than the Detroit Lions example he has cited repeatedly on how they carried the momentum of 2022 into this season).
My Denver7 keys to a victory:
With Stidham starting, the passing game should look different. Even with Courtland Sutton (concussion) out and Marvin Mims Jr. (hamstring) likely sidelined, the Broncos should use more slants and crossing routes. Payton’s passing game, at its core, is based on timing and precision, including using the middle of the field. Wilson excelled at playing off script and in up-tempo situations which led to success in the red zone. Jerry Jeudy, who is battling through an illness, and Brandon Johnson should receive plenty of targets. This is a huge audition for Stidham as it relates to his future.
Take the ball away
Denver is minus-4 in turnover margin during its 1-3 stretch and minus-5 in the defeats. For the defense to get back on track, it needs to get its sticky fingers back. Look for Patrick Surtain II, seeking a bounce back game, Ja’Quan McMillian, and Justin Simmons to seek out picks vs. backup Easton Stick. The Chargers are decimated by injuries at the receiver position, leaving few ideal options for the former college star.
The Broncos defense is not getting to the quarterback as much as it would like. The Broncos rank 20th in sacks with 38. Jonathon Cooper leads Denver with 7.5 and Nik Bonitto, expected back Sunday from a knee injury, has 7. Either one finishing with 10 this season would be a feather in the cap.
Run it back
Javonte Williams told Denver7 he is surprised at how well his surgically repaired right knee feels. There are no issues, no braces. But he wants and needs more production. He believes he can snap out of his funk this week after failing to average 4 yards per carry over the past eight games.
Troy’s Prediction: Broncos 27, Chargers 20