Sean Payton: Broncos decision on QB Russell Wilson will come ‘sooner rather than later’
The team will decide the future of quarterback Russell Wilson “sooner rather than later,” Broncos coach Sean Payton said during his rounds on Raw Radio on Friday’s Super Bowl, as an important deadline on his contract approaches.
“We’re looking closely at where the pieces are,” Payton said. Interview with Adam Shin Mad Dog Sports Radio. “Here’s ‘necessities, needs, wants’ and when I asked the question about Ross, he takes that into account. Is it possible for us to do ‘this, this, and this’ or not?” I think this decision will be sooner rather than later. “He will know sooner rather than later.”
Payton’s comments echo what he said about Wilson at the end of the season when he promised that the decision on when and whether to release Wilson “will not be a long, drawn-out process.” Part of that is determined by the activation of the 35-year-old quarterback’s contract, which will guarantee his $37 million salary for 2025 if he is still on the roster on March 17. The $85 million in dead money due to accelerated future guarantees ties up to the 2024 cap. The team can spread that fee over two seasons by setting the release after June 1.
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Payton, who led the Broncos to an 8-9 record during his first season as head coach, said the team is in the middle of the free agent meeting process and will begin its draft meetings on Monday, a day after Denver’s AFC West rivals. The Kansas City Chiefs play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII. Payton said those meetings will be an important part of the decision-making process regarding Wilson, but he pushed back on the idea that Denver has already chosen a path at quarterback.
“Anything that people said or commented on or heard about, ‘Oh, trades and —’ I can’t even tell you the jersey numbers of these rookie quarterbacks yet,” he said. “We start Monday on it. So how do we trade on (pick) one or go for five or six?
The Broncos hold the No. 12 pick in the draft and could be looking for a new quarterback after benching Payton Wilson with two games remaining last season. The Broncos were 7-8 at the time and coming off a stunning Christmas Eve loss to the New England Patriots that extinguished Denver’s hope of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2015. The Broncos turned to free agent signing Jarrett Stidham before the 2023 season for the final two games.
Payton said the Broncos are evaluating their quarterback options through a new lens.
“When the season is over, we take our puzzle and turn it upside down and all the pieces spread out again,” he told Kay Adams of FanDuel TV’s “Up and Adams” podcast. “We’re looking at the salary cap, where we are with our free agents. We’re looking at who we are in the draft, where our picks are, how many draft picks we have and start that puzzle again. … Our plan, to do this thing the right way, is to really evaluate the quarterback position.” “Are we going to be able to find him in the draft? Are we going to find him in free agency? Or is he in the building? That decision is going to happen faster than later, compared to a week later.”
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Expanding on the possibility of selecting a quarterback in the draft, Payton told Adams: “If we like one of these guys that much, I don’t care where people think we should draft him.”
The draft remains a great option for the Broncos to find their next quarterback if they move on from Wilson, in part because they are financially constrained by other options, such as landing one of their top signal-callers in free agency. The Broncos are $24.1 million over the projected 2024 salary cap, according to Over The Cap. There are many paths to easily getting under the cap and even creating cap space that could be added to the roster, but the Broncos, as general manager George Paton confirmed at the end of the season, won’t be in a position to get into the mix during the first wave of free agency like they did. Last season.
Denver also has relatively limited capital. The Broncos hold six picks in 2024 — and just one in the first two rounds. They could include a future first-round pick as part of a deal to move up the board to acquire a quarterback, but the team has already traded three first-round picks from 2022 to acquire Wilson and Payton, and has several holes on the roster that need to be addressed.
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No quarterback path will be chosen, however, until the Broncos make their decision with Wilson, who spent his offseason training in Southern California and attended the unveiling of a statue of the late Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant at Crypto.com Arena on Friday. Both sides have said the door remains open for Wilson to return to the Broncos for a third season in 2024, but that path seems unlikely given how last season ended. After Wilson was benched, he said the Broncos came to him in October to ask him to reinstate the injury guarantee in his contract. Paton said the negotiation with Wilson’s camp was done in “good faith,” but the quarterback said the conversation included a threat that Wilson would be benched if he did not agree to his contract request.
“They came to me at the beginning of the bye week…and told me that if I didn’t change my contract, guaranteeing my injury, I would be on the bench for the rest of the year,” Wilson said after his week. 17 seats, which Payton said was done for football-related reasons. “…I was definitely disappointed about that…I didn’t want to take away the injury guarantees. This game is a physical game. I’ve played for 12 years and that matters to me.
Lloyd Howell, the NFLPA’s first-year executive director, confirmed while at the Super Bowl on Thursday that the players union became involved around the time the perceived threat was made.
“On this matter… (NFLPA) is very engaged in working with our members, as well as their representative, and working to reach a resolution that protects our members and puts them in the best financial position that was originally agreed upon.” Howell said. “This will continue. I will not go into detail about what exactly happened with Ross, but the Palestinian Authority was involved, and we reached a solution.”
Wilson, who had a disastrous first season with the Broncos in 2022 after the blockbuster trade that sent five draft picks and three players to the Seattle Seahawks, rebounded from a statistical standpoint last season. He threw for 3,070 yards with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions in his 15 starts, and his 66.4 percent completion rate was his best since 2020. But Denver’s offense stymied during a stretch of three losses in four games that torpedoed its playoff hopes, and Wilson Ball. The safety issues — four interceptions and three fumbles — played a role in that slide.
Payton said in his interview with Shane: “Everything and every ounce of our energy at the beginning of (last season) was: What are the things that we feel (Wilson) does better for us offensively?” “Eventually, we got to a point where we felt like we wanted to look at Stidham. Honestly, we felt like we needed a spark offensively.
(Photo: RJ Sangusti/Getty Images)
(tags for translation) Denver Broncos