July 19, 2024

Russell Wilson — Broncos told me to adjust contract or be benched


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Russell Wilson said that in the days after he helped orchestrate the Denver Broncos’ first win over the Kansas City Chiefs since 2015, team officials approached him to adjust a salary guarantee in his contract, and if he didn’t, he would be “benched for the rest of the year.”

Coach Sean Payton announced Wednesday that Wilson lost his starting job in favor of Jarrett Stidham for Sunday’s home game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Payton has said it was strictly a decision based “on winning” and “to get a spark offensively.”

But Wilson said Friday the Broncos approached him about waiving a guarantee in the five-year, $242.6 million contract he signed in 2022 that would give the veteran quarterback, who already is guaranteed $39 million in 2024 whether he is on the team or not, another $37 million (his 2025 salary) guaranteed if he could not pass a physical on the fifth day of the new league year in March.

Team sources have said they hoped to adjust the timing of that guarantee.

Speaking Friday, Wilson said the team’s decision-makers told him on “the Monday or Tuesday” after the Broncos’ Oct. 29 win over the Chiefs that they would bench him if he didn’t adjust that $37 million guarantee.

“They definitely told me I was going to be benched and all that,” Wilson said. “That whole bye week I didn’t know what was going to be the case. I was going to be ready to play, I wanted to go to Buffalo and beat Buffalo [Nov. 13]. … I wasn’t going to remove the injury guarantee, this game is such a physical game, I’ve played 12 years and all that.

“I want to be able to play, I want to be able to help this team win. … I know every time I step on the field it’s a physical game. I never play timid; I never play scared.”

The Broncos were 3-5 after the win vs. the Chiefs, and an injury to Wilson over the season’s final nine games could have triggered the guarantee if it was serious enough for him to be unable to pass a physical come March. Wilson said the NFL and its players’ association “got involved,” and he remained Denver’s starter as the team posted wins over the Bills, the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns in the weeks that followed.

But with three losses in the past four games, including Sunday to the New England Patriots — after which Payton was openly critical of the offense — Wilson formally was benched.

Following Friday’s practice, Payton continued to reaffirm the decision was about “winning” and that he was not “privy” to conversations about benching Wilson over a contract issue. He pointed to general manager George Paton and owner/CEO Greg Penner.

“I’m not privy to any of those [discussions], I’m handling the football,” Payton said Friday.

“That’s something with George and the front office, I’m not involved in any of that, certainly I’m involved in a lot and there will be a time and place at the end of the season that maybe some of the questions that you may have someone else will be able to answer.”

He later added: “I know how this has been written, but this decision is strictly what I believe gives us a chance to win No. 8. Hard decision … there will be no other reasons.”

Wilson called the discussions and the threat to bench him a “low blow.”

“We got to 3-5, beat the Chiefs … [it] definitely hurt, a low blow,” he said.

“Those are good teams, we did it, we fought. It was challenging [to keep playing]. It’s challenging, at the same time I’ve got a job to do … at the end of the day you put your head down and stay focused.”

What the Broncos do with Wilson moving forward will be the biggest roster decision the team faces in the offseason. Denver has just six draft picks in April, with no second-rounder, and would face dead money charges of $85 million over the 2024 and 2025 seasons combined if the team cut Wilson.

Wilson continued to express hope he has a future with the Broncos but admitted he has considered the possibility he does not.

“I hope that it’s here, I hope that it’s here for a long time,” he said Friday. “I hope we win some more silverware in the front hall and we get some more championships, and if it’s not here, I’ll be prepared to do that somewhere else, but I hope that it’s here. I genuinely mean that, I brought my family here and everything else.”

The Broncos (7-8) still have an outside chance at the postseason, but they’ll enter Sunday’s divisional game short-handed at wide receiver. Courtland Sutton has been ruled out with a concussion sustained against the Patriots. Marvin Mims Jr. (hamstring) and Jerry Jeudy (illness) did not practice Friday and are questionable.

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