How soon will Broncos make decision on Russell Wilson? Sean Payton sets timeline

INDIANAPOLIS — Sean Payton saw the meme.

A Denver Broncos fan wore a shirt with eight quarterbacks’ names displayed. All eight were crossed out. Meanwhile, the fan was downing a “quarterback Kool-Aid.” The message was clear: The Broncos need to stop falling for quarterback solutions that don’t suit them.

“It’s vital,” the Broncos head coach said. “Our job is to make sure that this next one doesn’t have a line through it.”

In theory, that “next” quarterback could arrive in Denver anytime in the future. No one believes Russell Wilson will be Broncos quarterback forever more.

And yet, the ease and specificity with which Payton referenced "this next” quarterback did not resemble that of a coach thinking down the line.

The Broncos’ quarterback decision will arrive imminently. And if Payton’s language is any indication, the question may be less about how than whether Wilson leaves Denver.

“Somewhere in the neighborhood of next week we’re going to [decide],” Payton said Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine. “There’s a couple of factors here. Obviously, the [salary] cap projections came out. We’re further down the road with the draft class. Obviously, the pro free agents.

“So I would anticipate it being within the next two weeks.”

Head coach Sean Payton and the Broncos face a big decision on Russell Wilson's future this offseason. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Head coach Sean Payton and the Broncos face a big decision on Russell Wilson's future this offseason. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Mark your calendars: The Broncos expect to know by March 12, if not sooner, how they’ll solve the quarterback question for 2024. The NFL’s legal tampering period for free agency begins March 11 while free agency officially commences on March 13.

How did Wilson, Broncos get here?

The nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback and former Super Bowl champion arrived in Denver by trade ahead of the 2022 NFL season.

He’s since completed 63.3% of pass attempts for 6,594 yards, 42 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. Wilson posted the worst season of his career in 2022 with head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who was fired that December. He then rebounded from an 84.4 passer rating in 2022 to 98.0 in 2023, far closer to his 10-year Seattle average of 101.8.

But the Broncos went 4-11 under Hackett and opened 7-8 in Payton’s first season there. Payton has expressed displeasure with how Wilson runs the offense and appears to be looking for ways to offset the $85 million in dead cap space that would trigger if the team cuts Wilson before 2024, per

Wilson discussed that and more on former NFL receiver Brandon Marshall’s “I Am Athlete” podcast ahead of Payton and general manager George Paton’s combine media conferences. Wilson said the Broncos pressured him to remove his future injury guarantee and then benched him when he didn’t.

The Broncos would have more relief than expected if they absorb the dead cap, with the NFL announcing last week that the salary cap was jumping $30 million from last season. Teams viewed that as more of a COVID-19 reset than as a sign of massive jumps to come, executives across the league told Yahoo Sports, but the Broncos might stand to gain the most.

Or … could Wilson stay put in Denver?

“For me, it’s about winning,” Wilson said. “In the next five years, I want to win two [Super Bowls]. I want to feel the chill of that trophy again. So yeah I want to go back to Denver. I hope I get to go back. I’d love to go back, to be honest with you. I’ve got amazing teammates.

“I committed there, I wanted to be there, I want to be there.”

Wilson laughed when Marshall showed disbelief that the fracture between coach and quarterback could be mended.

“Hold on — you can go back to Denver, bro?” Marshall asked.

Wilson said he “can go back there.”

“With Payton?” Marshall confirmed. “You sure about that?”

Wilson said he was.

Paton said Tuesday that everything the Broncos did with contract negotiations “was above board,” noting three times in his response that the team has “moved forward.” It was unclear whether he meant they moved forward from addressing the matter publicly, from requesting the contract change or from Wilson altogether.

Expect all three questions to be answered in the next two weeks.

“It’s not just going to happen overnight,” Paton said. “Our decision is very important, but if you’re going to draft one, that’s obviously very difficult. So we’re going to put a lot of time into it like we do every position. But the quarterback position — there's more mistakes, it seems, in the first round.

“It’s the most important position in sports so this is important whether it’s from within — that’s why this is taking a long time.”