Yesterday, I shared one fork of the road map that involves keeping Russell Wilson on the roster, which is my preference. But I am also well aware of the possibility that this will not happen. Here’s a look at what I’d best see the other fork looking like, if Wilson is not on the roster.
The first thing to do is to explain what the finances could look like, and it is unclear as to which of two figures would emerge. The lack of clarity is due to a $22 million option bonus that Wilson is already fully guaranteed to receive. If the option is executed, that money is paid to Wilson immediately, and the cap dollars charged to the bonus are prorated over five season, like a signing bonus would be. If the option is not exercised, that money instead is added to Wilson’s existing 2024 base salary of $17 million–also already fully guaranteed.
The difference in executing the option bonus is where the lack of clarity comes in. Jason Fitzgerald thinks, but is not certain, that executing this option could prohibit the Broncos from using a June 1 designation if they cut him. If that’s the case, then in order for a June 1 designation to be used, the $39 million in dead cash would go alongside $14 million in prorated cap dollars to come up with a $53 million figure in 2024, and $32 million in 2025. If the option execution and the June 1 designation are allowed to be combined, then Wilson’s $35.4 million number stays as is, with the 2025 number falling to $49.6 million.
Should these two moves be allowed to be combined, then there isn’t really much that changes with the allocation of cap dollars as it stands right now. In that scenario, I would advocate the road map to stay true to the path I carved out yesterday, with one major exception that will be stated shortly. However, if the Broncos have to take on an additional $17.6 million figure now, then this will cause them to scramble in what could result in what I consider to be rare “cap casualty” actions. The divergent goals from the previous article listed below will assume that the combination of the executed option and June 1 designation will not be allowed–but again, with the exception of the very first goal.
Before I get there, however, I really want to emphasize that the problem with cutting Russell Wilson is not about the money. $37 million spent or saved is not going to be a significant sum in the big picture. The problem with cutting Russell Wilson is that the Broncos will not have a quarterback proven to be a viable starter on the roster. Getting great football players on the roster always takes priority over what they’re paid, and that’s most important at the most important position.
Thus, we proceed with the very first goal in this fork:
9. Acquire another rookie quarterback
If this is the path that the Broncos are going to take, then it is non-negotiable with my opinion that the Broncos must bring in two rookie quarterbacks to give them extra odds to find that viable long term starter. I do not see viability among veteran options, and the Broncos already have Jarrett Stidham under contract at a higher level backup salary. And getting two rookie quarterbacks likely requires the team to use a draft pick to get at least one, and a 1st round draft pick should not be ruled out. Finally, while scouting matters, no one has yet to be able to consistently crack the code as to what makes a good quarterback in the NFL. Multiple shots at the position are going to have to be taken, even if some of those shots miss, due to its importance.
10. Cut Tim Patrick
In the scenario where the Broncos have to tank Wilson’s 2024 option bonus all in one go, unfortunately I don’t see a practical way to wait on a decision with Patrick’s contract. I will be conservative and assume that the Broncos may have to cut him with a failed physical, which would leave them on the hook for a CBA mandated injury of $2.1 million, while also acknowledging that I obviously have no knowledge of Patrick’s actual injury recovery at this point.
11. Cut DJ Jones or approach him with a pay cut
Jones is the one player where the rare “cap casualty” could come into play. This would be painful when the Broncos already need to find another interior defensive lineman alongside Zach Allen as stated in Goal #6 in Part 1. If Jones is not amenable to a pay cut, then the Broncos are going to need to find two veteran interior defensive linemen on lesser salaries to cover the holes there for the short term.
12. Hold off on extending Josey Jewell, PJ Locke, Fabian Moreau, or Wil Lutz unless Goal #2 can be met
As a reminder, Goal #2 is to at minimum restructure the contracts of Garett Bolles and Justin Simmons using void years, but to preferably give both of them two year extensions. If this can be accomplished, then there is room to retain these players. If not, then the Broncos need to dig into some faith for younger players to step up and for cheaper veteran contracts to fill out the depth chart. This would mean that Drew Sanders would need to start at off ball linebacker as opposed to contributing to edge rusher depth, it means going all in on Caden Sterns recovering from injury to be a strong starter at safety, for Damarri Mathis to bounce back from a very rough sophomore season, and for the Broncos to go minimum salary at kicker.
To illustrate that need, here’s how tight the contract chart looks like in this fork without any restructure of the Bolles and Simmons contracts: