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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Sport
Guardian sport and agencies

Broncos take $85m hit to bring Russell Wilson’s Denver career to an early end

Russell Wilson missed the playoffs in both of his seasons in Denver
Russell Wilson missed the playoffs in both of his seasons in Denver. Photograph: Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports

The Broncos have brought an early end to Russell Wilson’s expensive and unsuccessful time in Denver by announcing they will cut the quarterback from their roster.

“We spoke with Russell Wilson today to inform him of his release after the start of the league year [which starts next Wednesday],” Broncos general manager George Paton and coach Sean Payton said in a joint statement.

“On behalf of the Broncos, we thank Russell for his contributions and dedication to our team and community while wishing him the best as he continues his career,” the statement added. “As we move forward, we are focused on building the strongest team possible for the 2024 season and beyond. We are excited to improve this offseason and will have the flexibility to get better through the draft and free agency.”

Wilson released a statement of his own thanking the city of Denver, several of his teammates and the Broncos cafeteria workers but did not mention Payton or Paton. He ended the statement by saying: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. God’s got me. I am excited for what’s next.”

The Broncos will take on an NFL-record $85m in dead money against their salary cap over the next two seasons by releasing the 35-year-old. The Broncos can decide how to spread that money out but Wilson is guaranteed $39m from Denver this coming season. Wilson’s $37 million salary for 2025 would have become guaranteed if he was still on Denver’s roster on 13 March.

Wilson, who won the Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks in the 2013 season, joined the Broncos in March 2022 with the expectation he could help them make a push for the championship. Wilson then signed a five-year contract extension with Denver worth $242.6m in September 2022.

The quarterback had already come at a heavy price: the Broncos sent two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round pick, quarterback Drew Lock, defensive lineman Shelby Harris, and tight end Noah Fant to the Seahawks in exchange for Wilson and a fourth-round pick. However, the Broncos finished last in the AFC West with a 5-12 record in 2022.

They improved to 8-9 after Payton’s arrival in 2023 but still finished well short of the playoffs. Although Wilson was not responsible for all Denver’s problems during that period, he recorded the lowest passer rating of his career in 2022 and was benched for the last two games of the 2023 season, with Payton saying the team needed a “spark” on offense.

Wilson contended the Broncos had threatened to bench him for the final nine games if he didn’t push back his $37m injury guarantee in his contract.

During his Denver career, Wilson threw 42 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, but his critics believed his conservative play prevented the Broncos from winning more games.

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