Broncos end Russell Wilson era and say they will release veteran QB

By | March 5, 2024

Years will pass and it will be impossible to remember how excited Denver Broncos fans were for the Russell Wilson era.

In March 2022, the Broncos traded a draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks for Wilson. The price didn’t matter then. The Broncos got a nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback and finally ended a long stretch of terrible play at the position. At least that’s how it should have turned out.

The Wilson trade and subsequent contract extension will go down as one of the most ruinous in NFL history. On Monday, the Broncos ended the Wilson era after two seasons and announced his release with a statement from general manager George Paton and head coach Sean Payton.

“We spoke with Russell Wilson today to inform him of his release following the start of the league year,” the statement read. “On behalf of the Broncos, we thank Russell for his contributions and dedication to our team as we wish him the best as he continues his career.”

Wilson released a corresponding statement thanking “Broncos Country.”

“Over the past two years, you have welcomed my family and me with open arms and embraced us as members of the Denver community,” Wilson wrote. “This city will always hold a special place in my heart. Our family grew up here, creating countless memories and friendships and forming relationships that will last a lifetime.”

The Wilson era in Denver will be remembered for Wilson’s ineffective play on the field, the sloppy handling of his final season by the Broncos, one of the most lopsided trades ever and the astonishing amount of money the Broncos spent to get themselves back find. the quarterback abyss.

The Broncos were 11-19 in Russell Wilson's start at quarterback.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)The Broncos were 11-19 in Russell Wilson's start at quarterback.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The Broncos were 11-19 in Russell Wilson’s start at quarterback. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Broncos made a big move for Russell Wilson

The Broncos were linked to Aaron Rodgers for two consecutive offseasons, but when Rodgers returned to the Packers for the 2022 season, Denver quickly moved to Plan B and traded for Wilson.

The trade data will disappear alongside other major trade blunders in NFL history, such as the Minnesota Vikings’ Herschel Walker deal. The Seahawks traded Wilson and a 2022 fourth-round draft pick to the Broncos for a 2022 first-round pick, a 2022 second-round pick, a 2022 fifth-round pick, a first-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick and three players: tight end Noah Fant, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock.

That’s not all. Before Wilson played a game with the Broncos, they signed him to a five-year extension worth more than $242 million with $161 million guaranteed, according to Spotrac. That extension could see him through the 2028 season. Amazingly, that extension didn’t even kick in before the Broncos moved on.

At the time, it didn’t seem to matter what Wilson cost. He was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL during his time with the Seahawks. The Broncos struggled to replace Peyton Manning after Manning retired following the 2015 season. The Broncos had not been to the playoffs since Manning retired.

Wilson had to change all that.

Wilson is not working with Denver

Wilson struggled during the 2022 season with Nathaniel Hackett as his coach. Hackett was fired before his first season even ended. The Broncos went 5-12. Wilson was one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. He was sacked an NFL-high 55 times and posted a career-worst passer rating of 84.4. He had just 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

The Broncos hired Sean Payton to replace Hackett and perhaps fix Wilson, and Wilson played better last season. He had a 98 passer rating with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions, which was closer to his Seattle level. But it wasn’t enough for the Broncos. Wilson was benched with two games left in the season, which appeared to be a move to avoid an injury guarantee on his contract. At that time, a report surfaced that the Broncos threatened in October to bench Wilson for the remainder of the season if he did not waive a clause in his contract that guaranteed his 2025 salary due to injury. Wilson confirmed that story. It drew the ire of the NFLPA. It was an unprofessional way for the Broncos to end the Wilson era, which had already set the franchise far back. It was clear that the Broncos were going to move on from Wilson in the offseason, even though cutting him would deal a fatal blow of $85 million to the salary cap.

The Wilson era in Denver will be remembered, but not in the way anyone expected before the 2022 season started. The Broncos made one of the worst trades in NFL history and also handed out one of the worst contracts in NFL history. Wilson might have ruined his shot at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which was possible for him after making nine Pro Bowls and winning a Super Bowl with the Seahawks. It will take a while for the Broncos to dig out of the mess and for Wilson to salvage his legacy in his late 30s, if he can.

Wilson and the Broncos made history together. Just not the kind that either side wanted.

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