First things first: This post is not about stalking Wilson. Yes, the situation sucks. The 2022 season has headed south in a hurry, and at this point there’s little to no reason to think it can be reversed. Against this background, I think it makes sense to think about the future. And that’s really all – a mental exercise to help everyone get an idea of what could happen in the next year or two.
At this point, Russell Wilson has six and a half seasons left on his contract with the Denver Broncos. And while the early return was very bad, there are also some extenuating circumstances — for one, head coach Nathaniel Hackett’s incompetence and stubborn refusal to change what isn’t working. A massive wave of injury for another. And the fact that Wilson is quietly playing through both shoulder and hamstring injuries for a third.
Personally, I think there’s still a chance Wilson will flip this thing in 2023. But that’s not what this post is about – this post is about what they might do if he Not. It’s an exploration of numbers and possibilities; a thought exercise, not a suggestion for action.
GM George Paton signed a five-year, $242.6 million extension for Wilson just before the season, binding the Broncos and their new veteran QB long-term. Or is it? If you look up Wilson’s contract on spotrac.com, you’ll see a gap in the contract years between 2025 and 2026 labeled “Potential Out.” That’s, generally speaking, the earliest point the Broncos could sever ties with Wilson without unmanageable dead-cap hits.
To avoid confusion, let me point out: That would mean Wilson being released in league year 2025 before the 2025 season. And it would (when stated as a post-6/1 release) result in:
Those are relatively easy numbers to swallow. Winning back $37M in Cap Space would make burning a massive failed contract a whole lot easier. But it would still require the Broncos to keep and likely start Wilson for two more full seasons, regardless of his performance.
So I asked myself: Is there an earlier out?
It really is. But it would be a bitter pill to swallow.
Coincidentally, it wouldn’t be unrealistic for the Broncos to release Wilson a year early, during the 2024 offseason. Again, you would have to call it a post-6/1 release. And the total dead cap would be a pretty horrid $85,000,000. But this post 6/1 release designation would change how that breaks out:
Those numbers are pretty staggering—historically staggering, in fact. How is that even possible?
Aside from the Covid-related weirdness of the last few years, you can safely assume that the NFL’s salary cap will rise at least $10,000,000 per year. I think the number for the next few seasons will exceed that given recent broadcast deals, but let’s use $10 million to be conservative. With that in mind, consider the likely cap limits in the pipeline:
- 2022: $208,200,000
- 2023: $218,200,000
- 2024: $228,200,000
- 2025: $238,200,000
Wilson’s potential 2024 dead cap value of $35.4 million would represent approximately 15.5% of the Broncos’ 2024 cap space. And his potential 2025 dead-cap number of $49.6 million would represent roughly 20.8% of the team’s 2025 cap space. Again, these are conservative numbers. It’s entirely possible that the cap will be closer to $245 million by 2025.
For comparison, the Atlanta Falcons’ $40,525,000 dead cap from trading Matt Ryan is 20.26%. If that cap hit can be endured by the Falcons, the Broncos can endure a little more than half a percent higher. They’ll set a new year-long single-player NFL dead cap record in the process, unless the cap is increased by a million or two. Either way, the total number of single player dead caps would set a record that would likely stand for years to come.
But if the need arises, the Broncos can certainly sever ties with Russell Wilson after next season and still perform at least as effectively as they have in recent years. The silver lining to this hypothesis is that in all likelihood we had a bad enough 2023 season to have a big first-round pick in 2024 and the possibility of a QB with a top 10 pick in the 2024 draft to select. We’d have a cheap QB for 4 or 5 years to even out the dead cap, but would eat up half the benefit the team would normally get from that cheap QB.
I don’t know about you, but if Wilson doesn’t fix his ship, I’d be more than happy that 2024 will be the year that the Broncos finally have a quarterback with a top-flight for the first time in franchise history. 10 pick pick.
Note: The Dead Cap & Cap Savings images above are sourced from spotrac.com
Broncos, Division and NFL News
Mile High Morning: How the Broncos can get the running game going against the Raiders
Injury Report: OLB Baron Browning trains for second straight day ahead of Week 11
“It’s going to be a showdown”: CB Pat Surtain II looks forward to rematch with Raiders WR Davante Adams
What we got wrong about the 2022 NFL season
Broncos LB Aaron Patrick is suing SoFi Stadium, Chargers for ACL injury
Raiders-Broncos: 5 things to watch out for in Week 11
Chiefs put wide receiver Mecole Hardman on injured reserve
The Chargers sign DT David Moa to the practice team and place two players on IR
Just Stats Baby: Week 10 vs the Colts
Titans OC Todd Downing arrested for DUI after defeating Packers
NFL Week 11 Bold Predictions: Jets Finally Beat Pats! Jeff Saturday’s Colts give Eagles second straight loss
2022 NFL season, week 11: What we learned from the Titans’ win over Packers on Thursday night
Image of the 2022 NFL Playoffs: Plea for/against seven fringe teams
NFL Week 11 picks, schedule, odds, injuries, stats, fantasy tips