Broncos end Russell Wilson era, say they will release veteran QB

Years will pass and it will be impossible to remember how excited Denver Broncos fans were for the Russell Wilson era.

In March of 2022, the Broncos traded a haul to the Seattle Seahawks for Wilson. The price didn't matter at that time. The Broncos were getting a nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback and finally ending a long stretch of horrendous play at the position. At least that's how it was supposed to turn out.

The Wilson trade and subsequent contract extension will go down as one of the most ruinous in NFL history. On Monday, the Broncos put an end to the Wilson era after two seasons, announcing his release with a statement from general manager George Paton and head coach Sean Payton.

"We spoke with Russell Wilson today to inform him of his release after the start of the league year," the statement reads. "On behalf of the Broncos, we thank Russell for his contributions and dedication to our team while wishing him the best as he continues his career."

Wilson released a corresponding statement thanking "Broncos Country."

"Over these last two years, you have welcomed my family and me with open arms and have embraced us as members of the Denver community," Wilson wrote. "This city will always hold a special place in my heart. Our family grew here, we made countless memories and friendships, and formed relationships that will last a lifetime."

The Wilson era in Denver will be remembered for Wilson's ineffective play on the field, the sloppy way in which the Broncos handled his final season, one of the most lopsided trades ever and the astonishing amount of money the Broncos spent just to find themselves back in the quarterback abyss.

The Broncos were 11-19 in Russell Wilson's starts at quarterback. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
The Broncos were 11-19 in Russell Wilson's starts at quarterback. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Broncos made a big move for Russell Wilson

The Broncos had been linked to Aaron Rodgers for two straight offseasons, but when Rodgers returned to the Packers for the 2022 season Denver quickly moved to Plan B and traded for Wilson.

The trade details will go down next to other huge trade blunders through NFL history like the Minnesota Vikings' Herschel Walker deal. The Seahawks traded Wilson and a 2022 fourth-round draft pick to the Broncos for a 2022 first-round pick, a 2022 second-round pick, a 2022 fifth-round pick, a 2023 first-round pick, a 2023 second-round pick and three players: tight end Noah Fant, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock.

That's not all. Before Wilson played a game with the Broncos they signed him to a five-year extension worth more than $242 million with $161 million guaranteed, according to Spotrac. That extension would take him through the 2028 season. Amazingly, that extension never even kicked in before the Broncos moved on.

At the time, it didn't seem to matter what Wilson cost. He was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL during his time with the Seahawks. The Broncos had struggled to replace Peyton Manning after Manning retired following the 2015 season. The Broncos hadn't been to the playoffs since Manning retired.

Wilson was supposed to change all of that.

Wilson doesn't work out with Denver

Wilson struggled badly during the 2022 season with Nathaniel Hackett as his coach. Hackett was fired before his first season was even finished. The Broncos went 5-12. Wilson was one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. He was sacked an NFL-high 55 times and posted a career-worst 84.4 passer rating. He had just 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

The Broncos hired Sean Payton to replace Hackett and perhaps fix Wilson, and Wilson did play better last season. He had a 98 passer rating with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions, which was closer to his Seattle level. But it wasn't enough for the Broncos. Wilson was benched with two games left in the season, which seemed to be a move to avoid triggering an injury guarantee on his contract. It was then that a report surfaced that the Broncos threatened in October to bench Wilson for the rest of the season if he didn't waive a clause in his contract guaranteeing his 2025 salary due to injury. Wilson confirmed that story. It drew the ire of the NFLPA. It was an unprofessional way for the Broncos to put to an end the Wilson era, which had already set the franchise way back. It was clear the Broncos were moving on from Wilson in the offseason, even though cutting him would cause an $85 million dead hit on the salary cap.

The Wilson era in Denver will be remembered, but not in the way anyone anticipated before the 2022 season kicked off. The Broncos made one of the worst trades in NFL history and also gave out one of the worst contracts in NFL history. Wilson might have ruined his shot at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which was a possibility for him after making nine Pro Bowls and winning a Super Bowl with the Seahawks. It will take a while for the Broncos to dig out of the mess and for Wilson to salvage his legacy in his late 30s, if he can.

Wilson and the Broncos made history together. Just not the kind either side wanted.