National Football League
Russell Wilson: Broncos threatened to bench me after Chiefs win if I didn't amend contract
National Football League

Russell Wilson: Broncos threatened to bench me after Chiefs win if I didn't amend contract

Updated Dec. 30, 2023 12:59 p.m. ET

Russell Wilson's time in Denver appears to be nearing a rocky conclusion. 

Despite the Broncos still being in the playoff hunt, the nine-time Pro Bowler will serve as the backup to journeyman Jarrett Stidham for Sunday's game against the Chargers. It's a move the club initially discussed with Wilson two months ago, in the immediate aftermath of its biggest win of the season — a Week 8 upset of the Chiefs. 

Multiple reports surfaced Wednesday detailing that the Broncos are benching Wilson for the remainder of the season to prevent him from suffering a serious injury, since his $37 million salary for 2025 would be guaranteed on the fifth day of the new league year in March if he could not pass a physical. 

Wilson confirmed Friday that the club approached him in late October and requested that he amend his contract.


"They came up to me during the bye week and beginning of the bye week, Monday or Tuesday, they told me if I didn’t change my contract, my injury guarantee, that I’d be benched the rest of the year," Wilson told reporters, as he addressed the media for the first time since his demotion. "I was definitely disappointed about it. It was a process for the whole bye week. We had just come off beating the Chiefs, I was excited for us fighting for the playoffs and getting on a hot streak. The NFLPA and NFL got involved or whatever at some point."

Wilson did not agree to waive the injury guarantee but was not benched, either. The Broncos also kept winning. After starting 1-5 under new coach Sean Payton — punctuated by a 70-20 loss to Miami — they rattled off five consecutive wins to get back into playoff contention. But Wilson's play remained uneven as Denver lost three of four to fall to 7-8. The club could still earn a playoff spot by winning its final two games and receiving help elsewhere amid a crowded AFC field.

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"Definitely disappointing, definitely a surprise," Wilson said of the sudden benching. "I felt like we were doing something special and rolling, and obviously we've had some tough games, tough close ones, but we still got a chance. At the end of the day, I think that what God's got for me no matter what it is, I'm gonna keep trusting in him. I'm gonna keep putting my best foot forward every day, trying to be as professional as I can be every day no matter what the circumstances are."

Two weeks ago, Payton was caught on camera chewing out Wilson on the sideline during the team's blowout loss to the Lions. This past weekend, the Broncos were shut out in the second and third quarters against the 4-11 Patriots before furiously rallying in the fourth and then losing on a last-second field goal. 

On Friday, Payton maintained that he's benching Wilson because he believes Stidham gives the Broncos a better chance to win this week. Payton added that he wasn't involved in talks with Wilson about possibly being sidelined over terms in his contract. 

"I'm not privy to any of those [discussions], I'm handling the football," Payton said Friday. "That's something with [general manager] George [Paton] and the front office, I'm not involved in any of that, certainly I'm involved in a lot and there will be a time and place at the end of the season that maybe some of the questions that you may have someone else will be able to answer. …

"This decision is strictly what I believe gives us a chance to win No. 8. Hard decision ... there will be no other reasons."

This Broncos debacle has tarnished Russell Wilson's legacy

Denver is already on the hook for Wilson's $39 million salary for 2024, which marks merely the beginning of the five-year, $242.6 million extension he signed shortly after being traded by the Seahawks prior to the 2022 season. The Broncos reportedly will cut Wilson after this season — and incur an $85 million dead cap hit in the process — although Wilson said Friday he still hopes to remain in Denver long term.

"I came here to play here, to win," Wilson said. "I knew it was going to be a process. I signed a seven-year deal. I want to be here, I want to play here, I want to win championships here."

Over 15 starts this season, Wilson has tallied 3,070 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 98.0 passer rating, while completing 66.4% of his throws. He's also rushed for 341 yards and three touchdowns. Denver's offense, meanwhile, is averaging 187.5 passing yards (25th in NFL), 110.7 rushing yards (14th), 298.2 total yards (25th) and 21.8 points (16th) per game this season.

Last year, Wilson posted a career low in passing touchdowns (16), passer rating (84.4) and completion percentage (60.5%). Denver finished 5-12, with first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett getting fired 15 games into the season.

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