With two games to play, the Denver Broncos playoff chances are a tiny 1.4%, and to protect the future of the franchise they are benching Russell Wilson.

This decision is a complicated one which involves the fact that Denver’s 2023 season is basically over. Despite their phenomenal push in the second half of the year, starting 1–5 was simply too big a hurdle to overcome.

Beyond this year, though, the Broncos have a crucial choice to make in terms of keeping Wilson as the franchise quarterback for two more seasons. Or, cut him pre-June 1, 2024.

An injury to Russ would tie Denver’s hands; they’d have to keep him not only in 2024, but in 2025, too.

And according to Ian Rappoport, the Broncos are considering benching him:

Sitting Wilson now protects the option of cutting the QB this offseason

Wildly, Wilson may have played his final game in a Denver Broncos jersey.

However, if they do sit him for the final two games, it doesn’t mean Denver won’t bring him back in 2024 and 2025.

Basically, because of the contract George Payton gave him—5 years for $245 million—if Wilson is on the roster on June 1, 2024 his 2025 salary of $37 million becomes guaranteed, too.

By protecting him from injury now, the Broncos leave themselves the option to either keep him for the next two years or cut him by June 1, 2024.

Of course, that’s not a guarantee either. Because the money is astronomical, both in terms of guarantees and in dead cap.

If the Broncos keep him going forward, he’ll be paid $54M in base salary, with another $20M in guarantees through 2025. Then, in 2026 his yearly base salary skyrockets to $58.4M, then $53.4M in 2027, and $54.4M in 2028 when he’s 38 years old.

Note, though, there would be another opportunity for an out for the Broncos after 2025.

If Denver does cut Wilson pre-June 1, they will incur massive amounts of dead cap. That number would be $85M in dead cap in 2024 and 2025. It would be $35.7M against 2024 and $49.6M in 2025.

The salary cap in 2024 is expected to be $240M, so cutting Wilson would eliminate 14.9% of their salary for next year. And around 20% in 2025, depending on the cap number that year.

Cutting Russell Wilson is a move for the long-term

So, considering all the money the Broncos will be without in 2024 and 2025, that sets up for more short-term struggles in all likelihood, but a possibility of long-term success.

In terms of coaching, the first question is already answered.

Sean Payton looks like the long-term answer at head coach for the Broncos. He took a team that was down-and-out and even pushed them through a terrible start to the season to have Denver in the playoff hunt for most of the second half of the year.

Being a superb offensive head coach, Payton has to have the right quarterback moving forward. Does he think that is Wilson? As Cody Roark asked on Monday, is the Sean Payton—Russell Wilson dynamic sustainable?

There’s no question that Payton helped the veteran bounce back after a terrible 2022 campaign. But Wilson is still playing merely mediocre football.

It’s possible he could get similar production out of a rookie or veteran journeyman quarterback for a year or two, and the team would hope to draft a star quarterback in the next few years, too. Then, that rookie could grow under the leadership of Payton and possibly continue on with the Broncos even after Payton retires.

For now, it looks like the roster will go through yet another rebuild. But the difference this time is they have their head coach in Payton.