The Denver Broncos made a shocking move this week, deciding to bench star quarterback Russell Wilson for the final two games of the 2022 NFL season. Wilson, acquired in a blockbuster trade with Seattle last offseason, has struggled mightily in his first year in Denver, prompting first-year head coach Sean Payton to make a change.
- The Broncos traded multiple draft picks and players to Seattle to acquire Wilson, a 9-time Pro Bowler, former Super Bowl champion, and one of the top QBs in the league over the past decade
- Wilson signed a $245 million extension with Denver shortly after the trade, with the expectation he would lead the Broncos back to contention
- However, the 2022 season has been an utter disaster, with Denver’s offense ranked at or near the bottom of the league in most categories
- Wilson has battled injuries and posted by far the worst stats of his 11-year career, while Denver has cycled through 3 head coaches and has a dismal 4-11 record
The official announcement came on December 27th from head coach Sean Payton, who was hired a few weeks prior after Nathaniel Hackett was fired during the season. Payton announced former Patriots backup QB Jarrett Stidham would start the final two games instead of Wilson.
In explaining the shocking decision, Payton cited a desire to evaluate other QBs on the roster for the future, implying Wilson’s time in Denver could quickly be ending after just one season. Reports emerged that Wilson has lost the confidence of coaches and teammates with his poor play.
The move completes a stunning fall from grace for Wilson after over a decade starring in Seattle. It also calls into question GM George Paton’s decision to trade away so much capital for the veteran QB just one year ago.
Reaction from Wilson and Teammates
Wilson has said little publicly since the benching, but reports indicate he is unhappy with the decision. Teammates have voiced support for Stidham, with receiver Jerry Jeudy saying “no disrespect to Russ, but you gotta rock with Stid no matter what.”
Other Broncos players have suggested issues with Wilson’s leadership and accountability have hurt the team this season. The locker room discord further points to a likely separation between Wilson and Denver after this disastrous first year together.
Russell Wilson’s Declining Production Since 2020
What’s Next for Wilson and Broncos
It seems extremely unlikely Wilson is part of Denver’s plan moving forward. He carries cap hits north of $50 million the next two seasons, limiting roster flexibility. Denver will likely explore trade options this offseason, but may ultimately cut Wilson if unable to find a taker.
As for Wilson, his days as a starting NFL QB could be numbered. He will be 35 next season and looked like a shell of himself in 2022. However, Wilson’s pedigree may still entice a QB-needy team to take a chance. Prime candidates include:
New Orleans Saints – With an aging roster but solid infrastructure, Wilson could be viewed as a short-term answer capable of making them contenders
Carolina Panthers – Local ties for Wilson and major uncertainty at QB could make Carolina players
New York Giants – Daniel Jones has shown flashes but not convinced Gmen yet, Wilson worth a look?
Las Vegas Raiders – All options appear on table with Derek Carr gone, Wilson makes some sense
Wherever Russell Wilson lands in 2023, the days of viewing him as an elite franchise QB are likely over after his rapid decline this season in Denver. Still, for QB-needy teams, he represents one of the biggest wild cards that could hit the market, making his eventual landing spot one of the biggest stories of the offseason.
For the Broncos, the attention turns to roster reconstruction and solving their seemingly never-ending QB woes once again this offseason. The decision to bench Russell Wilson caps off a list of baffling mistakes that now leave this once-proud franchise searching for answers at the game’s most important position.
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