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Over The Cap Boils Down Broncos' Options on Cutting Russell Wilson

What are the Denver Broncos' true options with regard to Russell Wilson's contract?
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The Denver Broncos gave Russell Wilson a massive extension, and there's no way to sugarcoat it: the team hasn't come close to getting a return on that investment.

Blame whoever you want for Wilson's struggles (and there's plenty to go around), but the question on Broncos Country's mind right now is how the Broncos can part ways with Wilson, even knowing that he is due a lot of fully guaranteed money.

I was one of many who posed this question to Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap, who wrote a piece earlier this season about the Green Bay Packers' options with Aaron Rodgers — another QB who hasn't lived up to expectations after signing a massive extension.

Fitzgerald wrote another article this week about the Broncos' option with Wilson. I will refer you to the piece for the details, but let's go over things in brief.

• Wilson has option bonuses due in 2023 and 2024. The option bonuses are converted into signing bonuses for cap purposes if exercised.

• A straight cut in 2023 means a $107M dead money charge — obviously, not a scenario the Broncos will consider.

• A post-June 1 designation without exercising the option means a $77M dead money charge in 2023 and a $30M dead money charge in 2024. That's still not ideal for 2023.

• If a post-June 1 designation is used while exercising the option, it's a $61M dead money charge in 2023 and $46M in 2024. Still not ideal.

• Move up Wilson's option bonus for 2024 to 2022 (which should be allowed), and you could get the dead money charges to $40M in 2023 and $67M in 2024. That makes it manageable in 2023 but a problem in 2024.

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Given that none of the scenarios are ideal for cutting Wilson in 2023, it's not likely that it will happen. Trying to sell the ownership on carrying that much dead money on the books in either 2023 or 2024 is more likely to get you fired than garnering you another year.

Instead, the more likely scenario is cutting Wilson in 2024 — the point in which the Broncos have to make a decision because he has injury-only guaranteed money due in 2025 (and some in 2026) that becomes fully guaranteed if he's on the roster on the fifth day of the 2024 league year.

But to avoid that additional $35M in injury-only guaranteed money becoming fully guaranteed, the Broncos can exercise the 2024 option bonus, then do the post-June 1 designation, which gives you a $35.4M dead money charge in 2024 and a $49.6M dead money charge in 2025.

While both numbers are big, it will at least be easier to manage those hits, particularly if the Broncos can find a quarterback through the draft by 2024 and continue to draft well otherwise. There would be some pain, but you wouldn't be trying to sell ownership on carrying dead money charges of $60M or more in a single season.

Fitzgerald's belief is that the 2023 season should be the determining factor on whether or not to cut Wilson in 2024. As he wrote, if Wilson plays better in 2023, you can consider the 2025 number. If he plays the same as in 2022, you have to move on.

As far as selling that plan on ownership, look at it as more than just "fixing Wilson" when it comes to what must be done in 2023. Relative to the head-coaching job, for example, it's not just Wilson's struggles but a host of other issues such as penalties, play-call sequencing, player management, game management, in-game adjustments, and an overall lack of experience on the coaching staff.

If a new head coach gets the penalties significantly reduced, gets more experience on the coaching staff, does a better job of managing personalities, and is quicker to make adjustments — both in-game and between games — that should become apparent even if Wilson struggles. You can then sell ownership on the idea that you have the right coaches, but you just need to find the right QB.

And while it's easy to say the Broncos should just move on and gut the roster in 2023, ownership is not going to be sold on that. The Walton-Penner group may not have been around for most of the roster decisions, but that does not mean they will approve a "burn it all" approach to things just to get out of Wilson's contract now.

The real approach, thus, needs to be about fixing not just Wilson but other issues that have plagued the Broncos. If things don't work out, you move on from GM George Paton, the new head coach, and Wilson, but if you see a marked improvement in most aspects, even if Wilson struggles, Paton and his new head coach get another year.

One thing that does need to happen for 2023 is the Broncos need better backup QB options than Brett Rypien and Josh Johnson. Denver needs a backup QB who has some starting experience and has shown that, with the right coaching, he can keep the team competitive and generate more scoring. Drafting a QB on Day 3 of the 2023 draft also needs to be considered.

That way, the Broncos have options in case Wilson struggles, and they can bench him and move forward with somebody else. They don't want to be on the hook for more salary if Wilson gets injured.

On a final note, Fitzgerald does not believe any team will trade for Wilson, so he didn't go over that scenario. Trading Wilson means a $40M dead money charge, assuming the Broncos don't exercise his 2023 option bonus before trading him.

While a trade seems unlikely, stranger things have happened. Even after the Indianapolis Colts' trade for Carson Wentz didn't pan out, they still were able to trade him to the Washington Commanders. No matter how remote the possibility, you can't rule out a team getting desperate for a QB.

There will be pain involved if Wilson doesn't improve, but it's best to be smart about managing it. Make the changes where you know you need to make them for 2023, and hope for the best. 

After the 2023 season goes down, the Broncos will know more about what needs to be done in 2024.

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