ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Two years ago, Russell Wilson exuberantly declared he intended to play a dozen years in Denver and double the trio of Lombardi Trophies in the Broncos’ lobby.
General manager George Paton was equally dizzy, thrilled to send four premium draft picks and three players to Seattle for a younger, healthier version of Peyton Manning and excited to sign the Super Bowl-winning quarterback to that $242 million extension six months later.
Acquiring Wilson turned out to be the biggest miscalculation in franchise history. He won just 11 of his 30 starts and witnessed both the coaching and quarterback carousels continue to churn in Denver, which hasn’t been to the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, 2016.
Wilson endured his worst season under Nathaniel Hackett in 2022 and bounced back under Sean Payton in 2023 only to get benched for Jarrett Stidham for the final two games.
On Monday, the Broncos informed Wilson they’d release him next week when the new league year begins.
“We thank Russell for his contributions and dedications to our team and community while wishing him the best as he continues his career,” the team posted on its social media channels, adding, “We are excited to improve this offseason and will have the flexibility to get better through the draft and free agency.”
The divorce will be a costly one for the Broncos, however. They still owe Wilson his $39 million salary for 2024 minus whatever he’d sign for with another team, which would likely be the veteran’s minimum salary of $1.21 million.
The Broncos also will take a record $89 million hit in dead cap charges over the next two seasons, which will crimp their roster building as they seek to end an eight-year playoff drought that’s featured six head coaches and 13 starting quarterbacks since Manning retired a month after the franchise’s third Super Bowl title.
Wilson thanked Broncos fans and teammates on social media posts, and issued individual shout-outs to a few of them, including left tackle Garett Bolles and receivers Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Brandon Johnson and Tim Patrick.
“Court, I’ll never forget your one-handed catch in LA and your toe-tap in Buffalo. Bolles, you always wrapping your arm around me win or lose. Brandon Johnson, your relentless work ethic. Jeu, you snagging and high-pointing that ball in KC!” Wilson wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
Wilson also praised Patrick and running back Javonte Williams for their attitudes during arduous rehabs and thanked locker room attendants and other staff.
“Tough times don’t last but tough people do,” Wilson concluded. “God’s got me. I am excited for what’s next.”
He signed off, “#3”
Wilson enjoyed a bounce-back year last season, throwing for 26 touchdowns with eight interceptions in 15 games.
But it wasn’t good enough and Payton went with Stidham for the final two games. Stidham went 1-1 and the Broncos finished 8-9, their seventh straight losing season and their eighth in a row outside the playoffs.
Although he had maintained a Wilson return was possible, Payton hinted at an impending split at the NFL scouting combine last week when talking about Denver’s long string of middling quarterbacks and suggested his job was to make sure “the next one” was the right QB to lead the Broncos back into contention.
Wilson, who had gone radio silent on social media at Payton’s request a year ago, recently resumed sharing videos of his workouts and over the weekend he removed all Broncos references from his profile on X.
Wilson was acquired in 2022 from the Seattle Seahawks, where he won a Super Bowl title after the 2013 season with a win over the Broncos, for a bevy of draft picks (two first-rounders and two seconds) and players (Drew Lock, Noah Fant and Shelby Harris).
He signed a nearly quarter-billion dollar extension before playing a single down in Denver and then went 4-11 in his first season under Hackett, who was fired after 15 games.
Payton had Wilson dial back his social media presence a year ago and a focused and fit Wilson showed up to training camp 20 pounds lighter.
He went 7-8 before losing his starting job. Wilson contended the Broncos had threatened to bench him for the final nine games if he didn’t push back his $37 million injury guarantee in his contract.
He declined to adjust his contract and started seven more games before getting benched in what Payton insisted was a football move, not a financial one.
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