The decision of the Broncos to fire coach Nathaniel Hackett and to keep, at least for now, GM George Paton suggests that the Broncos will indeed try to rectify the Russell Wilson debacle.
They really have no choice.
The contract that Paton gave to Wilson in late August makes the cap consequences for cutting him after the first year of the new deal untenable. Without a post-June 1 designation, the Broncos would take a $107 million cap charge by cutting Wilson this year. With a post-June 1 designation, the Broncos would carry $22 million in Wilson’s name this year, and $85 million in 2024.
It gets a little easier after the 2023 season. A post-June 1 designation in 2024 would result in a $35.4 million cap charge that year, with $49.6 million carried over to 2025.
Here’s another reason to do it in early 2024. If Wilson is on the roster on the fifth day of the 2024 league year, $37 million in 2025 salary becomes fully guaranteed.
Wilson has already received $57 million for 2022. He has another $67 million in fully-guaranteed payments over the next two years.
A trade would result in a lower cap charge, by foisting the remaining guarantees onto a new team. But who in their right mind would take on Wilson at $67 million over two years, and $104 million over three?
The best outcome, as suggested in spitball style during Tuesday’s PFT Live, would be to persuade Wilson to retire, perhaps with an offer that there would be no effort to recoup $40 million in paid but unearned signing bonus. That would reduce the cap charge for 2023 to $40 million. (If the retirement were processed after June 1, Wilson would cost only $10 million against the cap in 2023 and $30 million in 2024.)
Good luck getting Wilson to walk away. He’d likely need at least one more year of sluggish play, at a minimum, to begin to come to the conclusion that he’s no longer the player he used to be, and that he should consider packing it in and walking away. Even then, why give up guarantees that are fully vested?
Sure, it’s bad for the team to owe a bunch of money to a player who isn’t earning it. But it’s good for the player to ultimately cash every check of $124 million in full guarantees over three seasons.
Bottom line? Unless Wilson would indeed retire, the Broncos seem to be stuck with him for one more year. After 2023, it becomes more manageable to move on — and it arguably becomes imperative to avoid another $37 million in full guarantees that vest in March 2024.
Our assessment? The Broncos will try to fix Wilson in 2023. If they can’t make him the player he once was, he’ll be gone in 2024.