By Larry Holder, Nick Kosmider and Diana Russini
The Denver Broncos are benching veteran quarterback Russell Wilson for the team's final two games, multiple league sources have confirmed. Wilson was notified early Wednesday morning.
The decision to bench Wilson for Jared Stidham is tied at least in part to his contract. Wilson has $39 million guaranteed in 2024. $37 million in 2025 is currently only guaranteed for injury. If Wilson is still on the roster on the fifth day of the league year in March of next year, it will be an absolute guarantee.
By sitting Wilson, the Broncos would not risk an injury to the quarterback, giving them several months to decide his future with the franchise. Benching is a sign the Broncos are moving away from him.
Stidham, Wilson's backup for the first 15 games, is in line to start the final two against the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders. Wilson will be the No. 2 quarterback, according to a team source.
Following back-to-back losses to the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots, Denver (7-8) has just a 1.8 percent chance to make the playoffs. AthleticAustin Mock. The Broncos started the season 1-5, winning six of seven to move within a game behind the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West before dropping their last two contests.
Wilson, 35, threw for 3,070 yards with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions, resulting in a 98.0 passer rating that ranked seventh among qualified quarterbacks.
Stidham, 27, has two starts in five NFL seasons. Both came to the Raiders late last season after the team sidelined Derek Carr. Las Vegas lost both games Stidham started, while he threw for 656 yards with four TDs and three picks, resulting in an 89.2 passer rating.
The Broncos also want to look at Stidham because if the Broncos decide to move on from Wilson, he would be a great option next season. Severing ties to a senior is an $85 million dead-money hit. The Broncos could be spread over two seasons with the position post-June 1, but they will have limited money left to spend at the position.
Denver invested more assets and dollars to acquire Wilson last offseason in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks. The Broncos sent quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and five draft picks — two first, two second and fifth — to the Seahawks. Seattle sent a fourth-round pick to Denver along with Wilson.
Wilson agreed to a five-year, $245 million contract extension shortly before the start of the 2022 season. The deal, which included $165 million guaranteed, would have kept Wilson in Denver for the next seven years. Wilson's previous contract was a four-year, $140 million extension signed with the Seahawks in 2019 that runs through the 2023 season.
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Wilson struggled mightily in his first season with the Broncos in 2022. He threw for 3,524 yards with 16 TDs and 11 interceptions in 15 starts, leading to a career-low 84.4 passer rating.
This offseason, Denver traded with the New Orleans Saints to acquire the rights to recruit Sean Payton. He replaces longtime Saints coach Nathaniel Hackett, who was fired before completing one season with the Broncos.
On several occasions, Payton has been blunt when discussing Wilson's shortcomings and how to “fix” the veteran quarterback.
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The Patriots selected Stidham in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Stidham spent three seasons in New England before being traded to the Raiders in May 2022.
Stidham signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Broncos at the start of free agency that comes with $1 million guaranteed next season. In owners meetings shortly after Stidham's signing, Peyton said he believed the 27-year-old was starting quarterback upside.
“I think he's young, but I think we've got a good score on him coming out,” Payton said at the time. “We love the player. I think he's played well in both starts he's had this year. If you read the San Francisco game (at the end of the 2023 season) closely, he's smart at the line of scrimmage. There were actually a couple of directions with that position, and there were some No. 2s that I worked with or We felt comfortable.
“At this point, I think he's a No. 2 and the arrow is moving in a direction where we think he can be an NFL starter in our league. The assessment was very clear to all of us. I think he's going to be the best in the room. He is smart. Quietly, it was an important landmark for us.
Ultimately, this action is tied to performance. The Broncos have lost three of their last four games as the offense has struggled mightily. Wilson has thrown four interceptions in that span.
Now, the Broncos will be in data-gathering mode as they finish the season. Coincidentally, Stidham finds himself in the same position he played at quarterback with the Raiders last season. Las Vegas decided to sit Derek Carr for the team's final two games to avoid an injury that would guarantee future salary.
The riders eventually moved away from the car. Payton's move on Wednesday indicates the Broncos are ready to deal with Wilson after the season. The next two games will help determine how they progress at quarterback.
(Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)