Broncos' Cap Situation Explained If Russell Wilson Is Cut or Traded in 2023 Offseason

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVDecember 26, 2022

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - DECEMBER 04: Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos drops back to pass against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
G Fiume/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos aren't actually going to jettison Russell Wilson just one year after his blockbuster trade, are they?

Wilson's five-year, $242.6 million extension with the Broncos, which included $161 million guaranteed, is shaping up to be the worst contract in terms of return on investment.

As much as Denver might prefer to move on in the offseason, doing so would require lighting a significant amount of money on fire. Here are the salary-cap implications if Wilson were released or traded, according to Spotrac:

Released Pre-June 1

  • 2023 Dead Cap 2023: $107 million 
  • Cap Savings: minus-$85 million

Traded Pre-June 1

  • 2023 Dead Cap: $82 million 
  • 2023 Cap Savings: minus-$60 million

Released Post-June 1

  • 2023 Dead Cap: $39 million 
  • 2024 Dead Cap: $68 million 
  • 2023 Cap Savings: minus-$17 million

Traded Post-June 1

  • 2023 Dead Cap: $14 million 
  • 2024 Dead Cap: $68 million 
  • 2023 Cap Savings: $8 million

The Broncos are looking for a new head coach after firing Nathaniel Hackett on Monday. The dilemma for the organization is that Wilson has played so badly and his contract is such a millstone that prospective suitors might be wary of signing on.

If, for example, you're Sean Payton, are you all that excited about assuming the challenge Denver faces? The same goes for Frank Reich, who should have plenty of options this offseason if he wants to jump back into the coaching ranks.

Perhaps ownership would give the green light to designating Wilson as a post-June 1 cut if it meant landing one of the front office's top coaching candidates.

Gregg Rosenthal @greggrosenthal

The Broncos don't *have* to keep Russell Wilson. There is a strong case to cut him with a post June-1 designation, swallow your cap medicine and move on. I'd expect some coaching candidates to make that case.

In that scenario, Wilson would be accounting for the fifth-highest cap hit in the NFL in 2023. It gets even worse in 2024, when his cap hit would be $13 million more than the next closest player, the Cleveland Browns' Deshaun Watson.

Firing Hackett, while justified on its own, may tip the Broncos' hand as it relates to Wilson's status. You can still plausibly convince yourself the nine-time Pro Bowler rebounds to some degree with a new head coach and a different offensive staff in 2023.

George Stoia III @GeorgeStoia

Schottenheimer was Seattle's offensive coordinator from 2018-2020 when Russell Wilson had some of his best seasons statistically. <br><br>2018: 35 TDs, 7 INTs, 3,448 yds<br>2019: 31 TDs, 5 INTs, 4,110 yds<br>2020: 40 TDs, 13 INTs, 4,212 yds <a href="https://t.co/uhZnnjUhoA">https://t.co/uhZnnjUhoA</a>

And treading water with the 34-year-old in 2023 and 2024 might be preferable to climbing out of the financial hole you'd put yourself in by cutting ties with him now. Maybe an avenue to a trade opens up as well.

For now, it looks like 2024 is the earliest Denver can get out of this marriage, and even then the separation would remain costly. Making him a post-June 1 cut would saddle the Broncos with $35.4 million in dead-cap money for 2024 and $49.6 million in dead money for 2025.