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Contract Extension Examination: Russell Wilson

The Broncos made a massive change to their identity when they traded for Russell Wilson, given the high caliber of player he is, and the commensurate compensation they gave up to trade for him. He is going to be the face of the franchise for many years to go, and the Broncos will recognize that at some point with a similarly massive extension.

Russ is going to get paid.

There’s no reason to deny this: a team does not make this kind of trade for a quarterback without eventually making him one of the highest paid players in the NFL. Wilson will rightfully be gunning for that top echelon that very few ever get to.

Yes, there are extenuating circumstances with the current top four clubhouse leaders. Aaron Rodgers’s APY spiked above $50 million by signing a short contract at age 39 with high existing leverage over the Packers. The Browns needlessly deleveraged themselves with their disturbing actions in trading for Deshaun Watson and fully guaranteeing him an entire contract. Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen go the oppose direction of Rodgers in length, at ten and six years.

But make no mistake: Wilson will be gunning for all of their metrics in some fashion–the only question is when.

Wilson has plenty of reason to be patient.

I state the above paragraph with Wilson yet to play a down of football for the Broncos yet. It’s quite implausible to imagine that Wilson’s contractual stock could fall in any manner. In the other direction, Wilson almost certainly is unlimited in confidence that he is going to produce a top tier 2022 season, hopefully culminating with a long playoff run that includes winning a Super Bowl. Should Wilson achieve that, his leverage will do nothing else but go up.

There are also plenty of other quarterbacks that could push metrics up with their own extensions. Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert will be eligible for such for the first time after this season, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray will be pushing for their own extensions, and even Baker Mayfield could make things move if he proves his first overall pick pedigree given that he got a fresh start in Charlotte just last Wednesday. Wilson could benefit more if any of those players sign contracts beforehand.

For these reasons, I do not anticipate Wilson agreeing to an extension in 2022. It certainly wouldn’t hurt for the Broncos to give an early extension a try. But I will assume for the purposes of this article that 2023 will be the season to work upon.

A sample, massive contract

YearBase SalaryProrated BonusRoster BonusCap Number

italics – fully guaranteed salary
*vesting guarantees

Given how funky the clubhouse leaders are at APY, this is the one place where I give a concession to the Broncos: at five years for a total of $220 million, the $44 million APY nests itself very neatly between Mahomes at $45 million and Allen at $43 million.

But Wilson makes up for this with the cash flow in particular. Including a whopping $53 million signing bonus, Wilson gets a nice $69.4 million within the first year, edging out Allen at $68.4 million and coming in second only to a quarterback whose APY is only at $40 million: Dak Prescott. I structure Wilson’s base salary to keep his 2023 cap number right where it is at $27 million, but if the Broncos feel they want to contain more or fewer cap dollars in that season, they can feel free to raise or lower the amount of this $69.4 million that’s contained in the signing bonus.

Cash flow through the second and third years are similarly favorable: at $100 million and $140 million, they are second only to Rodgers in payout, and by Year 4 at $180 million only Watson would surpass, should Watson be eligible to play football as scheduled by the Browns.

As for guarantees, Wilson gets them in full for the $100 million in his first two seasons, plus I also move $6 million of third year pay into a guaranteed roster bonus, just like Allen has, to ensure that he surpasses all in fully guaranteed money at $106 million. (Allen and Rodgers are at and just above $150 million.) For vesting guarantees, I place typical triggers soon after the league year starts to send that metric clearly above everyone else except for Watson’s abnormal fully guaranteed contract. By 2025, it is feasible for the Broncos to move on only if something goes horribly wrong, but it will have to be a decision to be made very early in the offseason.