Broncos benching QB Russell Wilson for remainder of 2023 season to preserve financial flexibility

By Kevin Patra,  Around the NFL Writer

The Denver Broncos aren’t eliminated from playoff contention, but they are making a quarterback change with two weeks to play.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday that the Broncos are benching Russell Wilson for the final two games of the regular season, per sources informed of the situation.

Jarrett Stidham will make his first start for the Broncos this Sunday against the Chargers. NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero added that Wilson will dress for Week 17’s game as the No. 2 QB.

One key reason behind the switch is financial, per Rapoport. Wilson has a $37 million injury guarantee for 2025 that becomes fully guaranteed in March. Sitting the QB the final two weeks to ensure he doesn’t suffer a catastrophic injury provides the Broncos financial flexibility if Sean Payton and Co. decide to move on from the 35-year-old quarterback in 2024. It’s not a done deal, but the late-season benching is a strong indicator Denver will end the Wilson ride after two seasons.

Wilson is due $39 million fully guaranteed in 2024.

Payton later confirmed the newest QB depth chart during his Wednesday press conference.

“Look, I can tell you we’re desperately trying to win,” Payton told reporters, via “Sure, in our game today there are economics and all those other things, but the No. 1 push behind this — and it’s a decision I’m making — is to get a spark offensively.”

The Las Vegas Raiders used a similar tactic last season with Derek Carrbenching the starter in favor of then-backup Stidham. Now in Denver, Stidham takes over after signing with the Mile High club this offseason.

Wilson has played better under Payton than in a disastrous first season in Denver in 2022, but the offense has struggled of late. The Week 15 loss in Detroit came with a sideline scolding of Wilson from Payton. The coach dismissed the spat, but the interaction underscored a tenuous future for the QB.

Denver dug itself out of a 1-5 hole to start the season, using a five-game winning streak to get into playoff contention. But the Broncos losing three of their past four, including Sunday night’s loss to New England, cratered their chances.

In 15 starts this year, Wilson has completed 66.4% of his passes for 3,070 yards — fewest in 12 seasons — with 26 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Once championed as the piece to get Denver over its playoff drought, if it’s the end for Wilson with the Broncos, it’ll go down as a massive disappointment.

Payton will use the final two weeks to see what he has in Stidham, who threw for 584 yards, four TDs and three INTs in two starts last season with Vegas.

With two games remaining, the 7 -8 Broncos have an 8% chance to make the postseason, per Next Gen Stats. They’ll need Stidham to guide them to two wins over the Chargers and Raiders and get some help.

Benching Wilson to keep him healthy is a sign that Payton is ready to begin evaluations for the 2024 season as the coach continues to mold the roster to his liking.

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