NFLPA says Broncos’ threat to Russell Wilson was illegal and violated CBA

After the Denver Broncos threatened to bench quarterback Russell Wilson in October if he did not agree to change his contract, the NFL Players Association informed the team that their threat was illegal and violated the CBA between the NFL and NFLPA.

NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler (pictured above) sent the following letter to the Broncos and the NFL on Nov. 4, according to a report from Mark Maske of The Washington Post:

It has come to our attention that the Denver Broncos recently informed Mr. Wilson and his Certified Contract Advisor that if Mr. Wilson would not renegotiate his Player Contract to relinquish certain salary guarantees, the Broncos would remove him from the starting lineup.

If the Broncos follow-through on the Club’s threat, the Club will violate, among other things, the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Mr. Wilson’s Player Contract and New York law. And, we are particularly concerned that the Broncos still intend to commit these violations under the guise of ‘coaching decisions.’ 

Broncos coach Sean Payton has insisted since Wilson was benched on Wednesday that the decision was made for football reasons. Payton also said he was not involved with the team’s contract negotiations with the QB.

“My focus has been on winning, and I am going to go back to what I said at the beginning of the week,” Payton said Friday. “I know how this has been written, but this decision strictly is what I believe gives us a chance to win No. 8. It’s a hard decision, but for me where I’m at in my career, that is all I am interested in — getting another win. There would be no other reasons.”

Wilson spoke to media members in the locker room on Friday and he confirmed the reports that the team threatening to bench him over his contract two months ago.

“They came up to me during the bye week, the beginning of the bye week, on Monday or Tuesday, and they told me that if I didn’t change my contract, my injury guarantee, that I’d be benched for the rest of the year,” Wilson said.

Curiously, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport made no mention about the NFLPA letter in his story providing context around Wilson’s benching:

As many agents do amid negotiations, Rodgers took the Broncos’ proposal to the NFLPA, which often consults with agents on big-money player contracts. The union did not view any “threat” of benching as a real threat, and Wilson turned down the Broncos’ offer, which is his right. No grievance was filed, and it’s unlikely one will be. One source called such negotiations “commonplace.”

Rapoport did provide details about why the benching made sense from a football perspective. It seems fair to assume that the reporter who works for the league (and its 32 teams) reported details on behalf of the team. The NFLPA is now leaking details on behalf of one of its union members.

If Wilson suffered a serious injury that prevented him from passing a physical on March 17, his $37 million salary for the 2025 season would have become guaranteed. The Broncos wanted to revise that part of the QB’s contract in late October. The QB refused and — after the NFLPA got involved – he kept the starting job until Denver was all but eliminated from playoff contention.

It’s hard to imagine Wilson suiting up for the Broncos in 2024 after all the behind-the-scenes drama the quarterback has gone through in 2023. Wilson now expects to be cut by Denver in March before his 2025 salary becomes guaranteed. The 35-year-old QB went 11-19 as a starter with the Broncos.

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Story originally appeared on Broncos Wire