Posted by Mission146
Dec 29, 2023


This is how it happens; just when I thought I was done writing NFL articles, something happens to bring me back in.

Specifically, Broncos Head Coach, Sean Payton, has announced that Russell Wilson will be sitting behind Jarrett Stidham (yes, I did look up how to spell that) for the last two games of the 2023 NFL Season.

Superficially, this might seem like a strange choice because, at 7-8, the Denver Broncos are not actually eliminated from the Playoffs just yet. Actually, the Broncos aren’t eliminated from winning the AFC West (if you’d believe that), but it would require them to beat the Chargers and Raiders AND for Kansas City to lose its final two games, which are against the Bengals and Chargers.

At that point, both the Chiefs and Broncos would be 9-7; they will have also split the regular season series-going 1-1 against each other. The next tiebreaker is Division record and would go to the then 4-2 Denver Broncos over the 3-3 Chiefs. The Chiefs will still have the better Conference record, but as tiebreakers go, Division record takes priority over Conference.

Does this mean that Sean Payton has given up on the season?


First of all, just because Russell Wilson is perceived as the better choice (the line for Broncos/Chargers opened Denver -6.5 and has moved to Denver -3.5) at quarterback, starting Jarrett Stidham doesn’t mean that they are going to lose. Beyond that, I don’t think Sean Payton necessarily believes that the Broncos will lose either of the next two games; it’s more likely that he believes Kansas City won’t lose both of their next two.

The Broncos could also win both games and get a WildCard entry, but that first assumes that they have NOT won the Division. Beyond that, there are three spots that would not go to Division winners; the Cleveland Browns are 10-5, so that Wildcard slot is gone, as far as the Broncos are concerned. That leaves two WildCard spots left.

The Buffalo Bills are 9-6; for the Broncos, if they won their last two games they would tie in record and have the head-to-head tiebreaker if it became a head-to-head scenario, which I would say is extremely doubtful, as five AFC teams currently sit at 8-7. When you get into multi-way tiebreaker scenarios, given how many teams there are in the hunt, there are entirely too many scenarios to get into for the purposes of this article.

In any case, the Bills simply winning a game reduces the number of available WildCard spots to one, as far as the Denver Broncos are concerned.

Essentially, in Wildcard scenarios, the Broncos would be their division’s representative (best division record), but it gets a little bit messy after that. In brief, here is what they would need to happen:


They would need four of the five teams who currently sit at 8-7 (one of these teams MUST win the AFC South) NOT to win their last two games, or they end the season at 10-7 and the Broncos are eliminated.

The teams in question are the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans*, Indianapolis Colts* and Jacksonville Jaguars*.

*One of the three asterisked teams MUST win the AFC South.

With that, let’s look at who those five teams have remaining on the schedule:

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers close the season with visits to Seattle and Baltimore, respectively. If the Steelers win both of these games, then the Broncos are done. Furthermore, if Baltimore beats the Dolphins this week, then they’ll have exactly nothing to play for next week (and will likely sit Lamar Jackson) as they’ll have secured the first round bye. Despite the Seahawks being another 8-7 team, it would appear that the Steelers are about a 3.5 point underdog, at the moment.

The Broncos would obviously prefer the Steelers (unless Denver simply wins the Division) to lose BOTH of these games, but they absolutely need the Steelers to lose to a Ravens team who might not be playing for anything. If the Steelers beat the Ravens, then the tiebreaker in a Steelers v. Broncos Wildcard scenario would go to Conference Record, which the Steelers win (they’d be 7-5 compared to the Broncos 6-6, in this scenario.)

The next tiebreaker would be best win-lose-tie percentage in common games, provided there are at least four common games. For this to become relevant, the Steelers would have to beat the Seahawks, but lose to the Ravens. Again, if the Steelers beat the Ravens, then the Broncos do not win a WildCard tiebreaker against the Steelers; it’s over.

It looks as though this tiebreaker would go to…nobody!

Browns: Pittsburgh 1-1; Denver 1-0

Raiders: Pittsburgh 1-0; Denver 1-1

Packers: Pittsburgh 1-0; Denver 1-0

Patriots: Pittsburgh 0-1; Denver 0-1

Texans: Pittsburgh 0-1; Denver 0-1

Both Teams: 3-3

The next tiebreaker would be, “Strength of victory in all games,” which seems like a really fancy way of saying, “Points Differential.” It doesn’t say, “Strength of victory in all wins.” Presently, the Steelers have a Points Differential of -34 compared to -50 for the Broncos. However, we’re assuming two Broncos wins for both teams at 9-7 scenario to even be relevant, and the Broncos have better offensive production, so this is anyone’s tiebreaker.

With that, relative to Pittsburgh, here is what the Broncos need:

  • Pittsburgh goes 0-2 to end the season; Broncos go 2-0.
  • Pittsburgh goes 1-1, but MUST lose to the Ravens; the Broncos go 2-0. (Anyone’s tiebreaker)

Pittsburgh going 0-2 and the Broncos going 1-1 is insufficient for the Broncos, not only because 8-9 won’t be good enough to make the Playoffs, but also, because that would automatically give the Steelers the better AFC Conference record of the two.

Cincinnati Bengals: This is easy; the Bengals have such a bad Conference record (and also did not play the Broncos) that there is no scenario (other than the Bengals going 2-0) in which anything that they do is relevant to the Broncos. If the Bengals go 2-0, then they’d simply have a better record than the Broncos.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Ignoring that the Jaguars could win the AFC South, their relationship would be, dollar-for-dollar, the same as that of the Steelers and Broncos.

The best that the Broncos could do is match a 6-6 Conference Record, as the two teams did not play head-to-head. The only way that would happen is if the Jaguars lose to the Titans during the final week of the regular season.

At that point, because the Jaguars and Broncos did not play head-to-head, it goes to common opponents. Denver actually wins this tiebreaker over Jacksonville (3-2 v. 2-3); the long story short is that Denver beat the Browns and Jacksonville didn’t.

As we’ve already established, because an 8-9 Broncos would miss a spot to an 8-9 Pittsburgh Steelers (though we’d doubt either would advance) the Broncos MUST win two games.

As it relates to the Jaguars, the Broncos need:

  1. Jacksonville goes 0-2 to end the season; Broncos go 2-0.
  2. Jacksonville goes 1-1 to end the season AND that loss is to the Titans.

Indianapolis Colts: Once again, this is a team that did not actually play the Broncos head-to-head. The interesting thing about NFL scheduling is that it’s sort of genius, but only if you think making something needlessly complicated is a worthy goal.

This is actually pretty wild as there are multiple ways that the Colts and Broncos directly relate to each other.

UNLESS the Colts were to also win the AFC South, Denver needs to go 2-0 and have the Colts go 0-2 (which also includes a loss to the Raiders in Week 17 who are also competing with the Broncos…and half of the Conference…for a Playoff spot). The reason why the Colts MUST go 0-2 is because any win would give them a better AFC Conference record than the Broncos, so anything the Broncos do would be irrelevant.

With that, the Broncos have to cheer on their division rival, the Las Vegas Raiders, to beat the Indianapolis Colts and then, as a parting gift, beat the Raiders themselves in Week 18. If the Colts beat the Raiders, then the Broncos’ only chance would be for the Colts to win their own division, which may, or may not, require the Colts to beat the Texans (this would depend on what the Texans and Jaguars do in Week 17).

In short, if the Colts win at all, then they must also win their division.

Houston Texans: The Broncos simply cannot win if they are to be in a head-to-head with Houston for the last Wildcard seed because the Texans beat Denver.

The Broncos can win as long as the Texans also win the Division, similar to the Colts. If the Texans go 1-1 and Denver goes 2-0, then the Texans would eliminate the Broncos in a head-to-head scenario OR tiebreaker scenario as they would have the head-to-head victories against all three of the Broncos, Steelers and Bengals.

The Titans beating the Texans this week helps the Broncos, unless the Texans ALSO win the AFC South, then it doesn’t end up making a difference to the Broncos. After that, the Texans would play the Colts, so who Denver would want to win that game would depend on what happens during Week 17.

*Yes, there are different scenarios that could involve teams tying; no, I am not getting into all of that.

In any event, the NFL’s own site puts the Broncos’ Playoff probability at roughly 8%, of which, roughly 3% comes from the Broncos simply going 2-0 whilst the Chiefs (last year’s Super Bowl champions, by the way) go 0-2, thereby causing the Broncos to win the Division. This scenario would make more sense if the Broncos and Chiefs played one another again, but they don’t.


How can I not gloat about being right?

In my article linked in the introduction, I said:

Between this season and last year, I still don’t think he’s been that great of a value for the team. When you look at what quarterbacks such as C.J. Stroud are doing, who is practically playing for free, then you’d really expect a better overall result when you’re paying Wilson the kind of money he’s making.

Basically, the Broncos paid him the way they did, and gave up what they did, with the hopes of making a Super Bowl run LAST YEAR. Not only was last year an unmitigated disaster that saw their first year head coach, Nathaniel Hackett, fail to complete his first campaign before being dismissed, but add to it, the Broncos will be lucky to even make the Playoffs this season.

In short, Wilson’s having a very nice year, but still isn’t a great value.

From my 2022 QB Carousel article, I stated:

As impactful as Russell Wilson has the potential of being for the Broncos organization, that trade collateral has more than, “Two years,” written on it, so I expect Wilson to sign a long-term deal with the team no later than next offseason.

Wilson is as reliable as they come, having miraculously only missed three games in his ten-year NFL Career. He has a positively absurd 3.36:1 career TD:INT ratio, averages 3,706 passing yards per season, completes 65% of his passes and currently enjoys the fourth-highest career passer rating (101.8) of all-time. I expect him to go to Canton, first ballot, after he retires.

It’s possible that Wilson has lost a little footspeed with age, but he’s still perfectly capable of scrambling when it’s necessary as well as working the occasional designed run. I’m not really going to get into average career rushing stats because they’re a bit misleading given that they are weighted heavily towards the first five years of his career. That said, he did run for over 500 yards as recently as 2020.

The Seahawks allowed the eighth most sacks in the league in 2021, and the Broncos weren’t far behind. On average, Wilson has absorbed 42.7 sacks per season, so the Broncos are going to want to improve upon that number in order for Wilson to play for another decade, as he announced that he intends to do. One thing that helps your quarterback be great is to have a great offensive line, as we see with teams such as the Chiefs, Patriots, Bills and Buccaneers allowing the 4th-1st fewest sacks in the league, in that order. We definitely want to see Wilson exiting the game in a relatively clean jersey—helps with longevity, if nothing else.

Just as a refresher, the ‘Trade Collateral,’ was two first round picks, two second round picks, backup QB Drew Lock, a fifth round pick, Tight End, Noah Fant and DE, Shelby Harris.

Really, it’s the Picks that are the most relevant.

As I suspected, Russell Wilson quickly came to terms on an extension with Denver, which is reported to look like this:

Basically, it’s a five-year extension, which means that Wilson is still playing on his original contract. The Broncos did have an out, in 2026, which would have had relatively minimal cap hit. I believe that means, if they trade Wilson elsewhere (with that team paying perhaps only part of Wilson’s 2024/2025 salaries) that the Broncos could outright release him going into the 2026 season and not owe him anything else.

If my interpretation on that is correct, then it’s possible that another team would only have to come to trade terms with the Broncos (unless they’d trade for all of Wilson’s salary, though I have no idea why you would ever do that) for two seasons; after those two seasons, in theory, that team could simply release Wilson and he signs a contract elsewhere or he could negotiate a new contract with the new team.

In any event, the contract has 161 million dollars which is fully guaranteed. The contract also contains the following surprisingly relevant term, from the source:

-$37M 2025 salary fully guarantees the 5th league day of 2024 (injury guaranteed at sign)

Basically, if Russell Wilson were injured on March 5th, 2024 and could not pass a physical, then his base salary for 2025 becomes fully guaranteed.

In the meantime, I’ve seen some takes on this situation that I disagree with, to varying degrees, so let’s discuss that:


Here’s the thing: I’m not a Sean Payton guy. I don’t like him; I don’t dislike him; other than the fact that he was the long-time HC of the New Orleans Saints, during which time the Bountygate scandal occurred, I really don’t know much about Sean Payton. If I had to describe my opinion of him, then my description would read one word, ‘Neutral.’

In my 2023 Coaching Carousel article, I opined:

Where the Broncos really hope to benefit is with Payton’s offensive resume as a Head Coach in the league; in twelve of Payton’s fifteen seasons as the head of the Saints, they were a top ten team in offensive points scored. Of course, they had Drew Brees at quarterback every season during which that was true. Even during the Brees years in which the Saints finished out of the top ten in that category, they were no worse than twelfth best in scoring offense.

As far as Payton’s legacy is concerned, it will be interesting to see if he can make something happen without a quarterback of Drew Brees’ caliber at his disposal. At the same time, until just last season, Russell Wilson was seen as one of the best signal-callers in the league, which explains why a team would effectively trade three drafts just to get him.


If the Denver Broncos don’t go on to win a Super Bowl, or even make any substantial playoff noise, during Payton’s tenure–well, things weren’t looking great for them coming out of the 2022 Season anyway, were they? If the Broncos do win a Super Bowl under Payton, then Payton only succeeding because of Brees will never be a topic of conversation and he will absolutely cement his legacy as one of the greatest coaches of all-time.

I think it’s fair to say that I was neutral on Sean Payton, at that time, as well. Essentially, I pointed out Payton’s success with the Saints, but also added that Payton had the luxury of coaching one of the greatest quarterbacks, in Drew Brees, to ever play the game. I ended by opining that he was inheriting a mess with the Broncos; I also implied that, while Russell Wilson is a top-tier quarterback, he is not Drew Brees.

Some commenters have stopped at terms just short of directly accusing Sean Payton of wanting to move on from Russell Wilson from the second he became Broncos’ Head Coach. In defense of this position, some of those commenters have pointed out that Jarrett Stidham was signed to this contract.

Wait, what?

Two years and ten million dollars, with a possible out after this season such that the team would only owe Stidham one million dollars for next year? That one million for next year is part of the total five million dollar guarantee of Stidham’s contract.

In what possible way is this a contract that would indicate Payton always had a plan to replace Russell Wilson with Jarrett Stidham? Why would the team ever want there to be an out in Stidham’s contract if this was the plan going into the season?

It’s kind of funny that these would-be Payton mind-readers would assert something like this now as opposed to when Stidham and the Broncos signed the deal. If they had given this take, at that time, and then Wilson was benched, they’d have looked like geniuses.

Sean Payton has become known as an offensive-minded HC who can get a lot out of his quarterbacks. In the best season (so far, but probably ever) of Jameis Winston’s NFL career, he was Drew Brees’ replacement (well, one of them) in New Orleans and had Sean Payton as his HC. It’s the only season that would ever see Winston post a 100+ QB Rate, which he mostly accomplished by being safe with the ball and throwing fourteen touchdowns against only three picks (not to mention the team going 5-2) in his seven starts.

Ten million over two years is simply not a ridiculous amount of money for an NFL backup; that’s especially true if you actually believe in the guy and are fielding what you believe to be a Playoff-hopeful team. In the event of an injury to Wilson, the Broncos were simply paying a slight premium (not to mention the 2024 out) to acquire a backup QB who they felt is fundamentally good enough, and could work well enough in a Sean Payton offense, that an injury to Wilson wouldn’t, in effect, be the end of the Broncos’ 2023 season.

There was also some hubbub about the team asking Wilson to restructure his contract, back in October, such that he would waive the 2025 guaranteed salary in the event of injury. Depending on when that ask took place, the Broncos were somewhere between 1-5 and 3-5, so it seems pretty reasonable that they’d at least see if Wilson would be open to such a concession, given that it didn’t look like this season was going anywhere significant.

I mean, would anyone deny that the Broncos have the right to ask? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to ask? One gets the impression that Wilson was not amenable to such an arrangement and the Broncos didn’t bench him until the last two weeks of the season, anyway.


One aspect of this everyone needs to understand is that we’re probably not even having this discussion had the Broncos beat the New England Patriots in Week 16.

Russell Wilson is not solely responsible for the Broncos losing this game. For one thing, Wilson threw no interceptions, lost no fumbles, threw two touchdowns and absorbed five sacks. His QB RATE for the game was north of 100. He didn’t really do much until the fourth quarter, but he almost led the Broncos to a comeback.

It’s also not Wilson’s fault that the Patriots put up their second-highest points total of the season; of course, that total was only 26, which shouldn’t be insurmountable for a supposedly elite quarterback.

Finally, it’s not Wilson’s fault that Marvin Mims Jr. nearly muffed a kickoff, gathered the ball up, attempted a return for gain, and then had the ball punched out by Marte Mapu for a Cody Davis fumble return touchdown.

These events are NOT Russell Wilson’s fault.

Furthermore, it’s not Russell Wilson’s fault that the Denver Broncos traded the equivalent of two drafts to acquire him, along with some other pieces.

It’s not Russell Wilson’s fault that the Broncos believed that he and first year Head Coach, Nathaniel Hackett, would lead the team to a Super Bowl.

It’s not Russell Wilson’s fault that the team signed Wilson to a laughably bad contract extension; this despite the fact that there were two years remaining on Wilson’s contract that the Broncos inherited from the Seahawks.

Finally, it’s not Russell Wilson’s fault that his contract includes an extremely player-friendly term that entitles Wilson to his entire 2025 salary if he is injured and unable to pass a physical on March 5th, 2024. If you’re Russell Wilson, then of course you would want such a term in there; essentially, were Wilson to suffer an injury that knocks him out for the 2024 season, then he is fully guaranteed his 2025 base salary should he come back and not perform well that year.

—But, it is Russell Wilson’s fault.

What drives me a little bit crazy is takes such as this one on SPEAK, suggesting that the Broncos are, perhaps, being outright disrespectful.


I agree the most with the majority of Joy Taylor’s takes here, except she as much as says that what’s happening to Russell Wilson is unfair, but life’s unfair.

I say, “No, what is ‘happening to’ Russell Wilson is absolutely NOT unfair.

The only reason that the Denver Broncos, who can still conceivably make the Playoffs, would be sitting Russell Wilson the last two weeks is because of an extremely player-friendly term that Wilson, one assumes, wanted in the contract in the first place. If you’re the Denver Broncos and this term is not in the contract, then you absolutely want Wilson to start because he gives you the best chance to win the next two games…and that’s what you need to do to even sniff the Playoffs.

Furthermore, it occurs to me that nobody disputes that the trade for Wilson is one of the worst trades ever executed in NFL History. It’s a laughably bad trade; the only arguably worse trade was the Browns’ for Deshaun Watson. It also occurs to me that almost everyone agrees that Russell Wilson’s contract is bad.

Basically, the Denver Broncos cannot put Russell Wilson in a meaningfully better position because they traded the equivalent of two drafts to get him; team improvement is further limited by the fact that they are already upside-down on next season’s salary cap due, largely, to how much they are paying Russell Wilson.

Both parties voluntarily entered into this contract and its terms. It’s technically not even this contract; it’s a contract extension that technically hasn’t even gone into effect yet! There’s nothing happening, in this situation, that’s unfair to anybody. Does it suck for Russell Wilson? Sure. It also sucks for the Denver Broncos.

The reason that it sucks for the Broncos is because Wilson, ostensibly, was the one piece they needed in order to make a Super Bowl run. As it turns out, last year was an absolute disaster (despite that they had a phenomenal defense) and this season, they’re very much on the outside looking in when it comes to making a Playoff appearance.

There has been some murmuring to the effect that Payton doesn’t trust Wilson to run what he perceives as his ideal offense. Payton’s ideal offense would involve the occasional deep ball, but would include many intermediate routes over the middle and, for the most part, dominating time of possession and methodically carving their way up the field.

Basically, when he’s not playing backyard football, Wilson has been relegated mostly to screens and swing passes, with the offense relying heavily on yards after catch.

Another indictment against Wilson is the fact that he’s being paid elite money, got elite contract terms and was brought to the Broncos with elite trade collateral. An example of a quarterback not considered elite is Wilson’s Seahawks’ replacement, Geno Smith; let’s see how the two compare over the last two seasons:

Wilson: 589/930, 6,594 Yards, 42 Touchdowns, 19 Interceptions, QB RATE: 90.95

Smith: 683/1010, 7,427 Yards, 47 Touchdowns, 20 Interceptions, QB RATE: 96.34

Different teams, sure, but I don’t care. That was Wilson’s backup on the Seahawks, in 2021. Admittedly, Smith is also a small dropoff from Wilson, when you look at Wilson’s 2021 stats, but not a dropoff to the tune of the difference in compensation.

Wilson can perhaps make a few plays that Geno Smith can’t; although, I’m not entirely sure about that. Still, there’s no question that Wilson’s elite money; money that was supposed to turn the Denver Broncos into an immediate Super Bowl contender, draft capital that was also intended to do the same…has not been a justified expense.

They spent the draft capital to get Russell Wilson; they spent the money to ensure that they’d have rights to Wilson for seven total years, but Wilson has not justified the Broncos investment. Is that Russell Wilson’s fault? Maybe not, but it’s not NOT his fault.

When you get that sort of money, you’re simply going to be held to a standard for personal and team performance; while you can’t control the team that is put around you, to a certain extent, you are responsible for it.


Given that the Denver Broncos and Russell Wilson are essentially owned by my one-time employers, Wal-Mart (Distribution Center), it seems fitting that we look at this from an investment standpoint, because the Waltons tend to be good at that.

From an investment standpoint, Russell Wilson should not be considered a toxic asset. Russell Wilson is, however, an underperforming asset. Some might argue that Wilson is performing fine and the Denver Broncos have a bad portfolio, but even if that’s true, per the above, they have a bad portfolio because of what they invested in Russell Wilson. At least, in part.

Many people are speculating that Wilson will simply be released at the beginning of the new league year, but I actually don’t think that’s Plan A; it could also depend on a few things.

Regardless of how Jarrett Stidham performs in these two games, there is the possibility that Russell Wilson gets traded, as opposed to being released. The Broncos are going to take a pretty sizeable cap hit if they release him, but being able to trade him would soften the blow.

Personally, I believe that trading the asset, which isn’t toxic, for something else of value, is Plan A.

The most likely scenario, I believe, would be similar to the one we saw with Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers last year. As mentioned, the Broncos have a partial out after the 2025 league year. I believe that they could release Wilson, at that point, and would only have to negotiate how much of Wilson’s salary the team he would be traded to would cover for the next two seasons. In terms of base salary, Wilson is poised to make 17 million followed by 37 million.

It’s theoretically possible that a team would simply trade for Wilson’s contract, but I would find that very difficult to fathom. While his on-field performance (this season) has been Top Ten QB quality, you have guys on rookie contracts, and even league veterans such as Baker Mayfield (and, VERY recently, Joe Flacco) doing better for significantly less.

However, if Denver could find someone who wants to play ball and could use a guy like Wilson (my first thoughts would be teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and Washington Commanders), then I could see a structure such that the new team would cover 17 million dollars of Wilson’s contract for each of the two years. After that, the Broncos would release him (as they’d have already agreed with the second team to do) and then Wilson and the second team (or any other) could go from there.

It’s also possible that, not finding anyone who wants to do business, the Broncos simply keep Russell Wilson. I think this is highly unlikely, but it’s technically possible and the Broncos could be protecting the value of the asset just in case they find a trading partner.

Finally, and perhaps just as likely as some kind of trade, the Broncos simply release him.


I don’t think so; why should they?

Given what we have seen in terms of the Broncos’ on-field performance, even if they made the Playoffs, I’d consider it highly unlikely that they would really do anything.

Beyond that, if Jarrett Stidham comes in, plays at least reasonably well and wins the last two games of the season, then why wouldn’t you just stick with him as QB1?

In short, in the extremely unlikely event the Broncos make the Playoffs, I think they would have to do so, in spite of terrible performances from Jarrett Stidham, for Wilson to become the Broncos’ playoff starter.


Even playing at a reasonably high level, Russell Wilson has simply been a terrible value for the Denver Broncos; the degree to which that’s Wilson’s fault can be debated.

At least the Broncos aren’t Cleveland Browns’ levels of screwed, despite the Browns actually being very good this year. Still, Deshaun Watson’s contract is FULLY guaranteed; Cleveland’s only way out of that, even a little bit, is if a team wants to pay part of Watson’s salary. If Watson has given any teams a reason to want to pay even high-caliber backup money, I certainly haven’t seen it.

Naturally, I wish Wilson the best of luck wherever he ends up. Should where he ends up be the Pittsburgh Steelers (provided they get him for substantially less than his current contract), I would certainly not object to that.


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