First things first: This post isn’t about dogpiling on Wilson. Yeah, the situation sucks. The 2022 season has gone south in a hurry, and at this point there’s little to no reason to think it can be turned around. With that in mind, I think it’s reasonable to start considering the future. And that’s really all this is- a mental exercise to help everyone get an idea of what could happen in the next year or two.
At this point, Russell Wilson has six & a half seasons left on his contract with the Denver Broncos. And while early returns have been very bad, there are also some extenuating circumstances- head coach Nathaniel Hackett’s incompetence & stubborn refusal to change what isn’t working, for one. A massive rash of injuries for another. And the fact that Wilson is quietly playing through both shoulder and hamstring injuries for a third.
Personally, I think there’s still a chance Wilson turns this thing around in 2023. But that’s not what this post is about- this post is about what they could do if he doesn’t. It’s an examination of numbers and possibilities; a mental exercise, not a proposal for a course of action.
GM George Paton committed to a five year, $242.6M extension for Wilson just prior to the season, which ties the Broncos & their new veteran QB together for the long term. Or does it? If you look up Wilson’s contract at spotrac.com, you’ll see a gap in the contract years between 2025 & 2026 labelled “Potential Out”. That is, at least in general wisdom, the earliest point at which the Broncos could feasibly cut ties with Wilson without unmanageable dead cap hits.
To avoid any confusion, let me point out: That would involve releasing Wilson during the 2025 league year, specifically before the 2025 season. And it would (if specified as a post 6/1 release) result in:
Those are relatively easy to swallow numbers. Regaining $37M of cap space would ease the burn of a massive failed contract considerably. But it would still require the Broncos to keep, and probably start, Wilson for two more entire seasons all but regardless of his performance.
That made me wonder: Is there an earlier out?
There is, actually. But it would be a more bitter pill to swallow.
As it happens, it wouldn’t be unrealistic for the Broncos to release Wilson a year earlier, during the 2024 offseason. They would, again, have to designate it a post 6/1 release. And the total dead cap would be a pretty horrific $85,000,000. But that post 6/1 release designation would change how that breaks out:
Those numbers are pretty staggering- historically staggering, in fact. So how is this at all feasible?
Covid-related weirdness in the last couple of years aside, you can reliably expect the NFL’s salary cap to rise by at least $10,000,000 per year. I think the number for the next couple of seasons will exceed that, considering recent broadcasting contracts, but let’s use $10M to be conservative. With that in mind, consider the probable cap limits coming down the pipeline:
- 2022: $208,200,000
- 2023: $218,200,000
- 2024: $228,200,000
- 2025: $238,200,000
Wilson’s potential 2024 dead cap figure of $35.4M would be approximately 15.5% of the Broncos’ 2024 cap space. And his potential 2025 dead cap figure of $49.6M would be approximately 20.8% of the team’s 2025 cap space. Again, these are conservative numbers. It’s entirely possible that the cap will end up closer to $245M by 2025.
For comparison, the Atlanta Falcons’ $40,525,000 of dead cap from trading Matt Ryan is 20.26%. If that cap hit can be endured by the Falcons, the Broncos can endure one barely more than half a percent higher. They’ll set a new NFL single-year, single-player dead cap record in the process unless the cap goes up by an additional million or two. Either way, the total single-player dead cap would set a record that would likely stand for years to come.
But, if it’s necessary, the Broncos certainly can cut ties with Russell Wilson after next season and still operate at least as effectively as they have in recent years. The silver lining of this hypothetical is that, in all likelihood, we’ll have had a bad enough 2023 season to have a high 1st round pick in 2024 and the possibility of selecting a QB with a top 10 pick in the 2024 draft. We’d have a cheap QB for 4 or 5 years to offset the dead cap, but would eat away half of the benefit the team would normally get from having that cheap QB.
I don’t know about you, but if Wilson doesn’t right his ship I’d be more than happy for 2024 to be the year the Broncos finally take a quarterback with a top 10 pick for the first time in franchise history.
Note: Dead Cap & Cap Savings images above are sourced from spotrac.com