Sean Payton hints at moving on from Russell Wilson, says Broncos have to hit on 'the next one' at QB

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Sean Payton isn't providing anything definitive on Russell Wilson's time in Denver but he did hint at the Broncos moving on from him when he suggested the team cannot afford to miss on “the next one” at quarterback.

Payton met with the media at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Tuesday and said the club should know by the end of next week what direction they'll take at QB.

Asked if he embraced the idea of finding a solution at quarterback, one that's eluded coaches and GMs ever since Peyton Manning retired eight years ago, Payton retorted, “Yeah, we better. In this league, which is very competitive in our division, it's vital.”

Payton then relayed a funny meme that caught his attention recently.

“There’s a Broncos fan with a shirt on with like eight quarterbacks' names crossed through them and he’s drinking the quarterback ‘Kool-Aid,'” Payton said. "Our job is to make sure this next one doesn’t have a line through it.”

The next one.

That sounds as though Wilson's time in Denver might be over, something that's seemed imminent since he was benched for Jarrett Stidham the last two weeks of the season.

The Broncos have delved into the free agency class of quarterbacks and will meet with the college passing prospects at the combine this week.

Wilson, who has won just 11 of 30 starts with the Broncos since his trade from Seattle two years ago, said over the weekend that he hopes to return to Denver in 2024.

Wilson said he still aims to win a pair of Super Bowls in the next half decade.

"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," Wilson said on former NFL receiver Brandon Marshall's “I Am Athlete” podcast that went live Sunday night.

Wilson also repeated his contention that the Broncos threatened to bench him at midseason if he didn't adjust an injury guarantee in his contract, something the team has called a mischaracterization.

Wilson declined to remove the injury guarantee from the approximately $245 million contract he’d signed about a year earlier and ended up starting seven more games before Payton benched him for the final two games.

“I didn’t want to set a precedent for players to remove their injury guarantees,” Wilson told Marshall. “... No way I was going to do that.”

On Tuesday, Payton said he didn't watch Wilson's appearance on the podcast and general manager George Paton demurred when asked about Wilson raising anew the notion that he was threatened with a benching if he didn't alter his contract.

“We’ve addressed that, and we moved forward. Everything we did was above board,” Paton said. "I appreciate Russ, but we moved forward. We have a lot of work to do. We’re here at the combine. We have free agency around the corner, and we’re focused on bettering our team and winning football games.”

If the Broncos are going to move on from Wilson after two mostly disappointing seasons, they'll have to do so before March 17, when his $37 million base salary for 2025 becomes fully guaranteed.

The Broncos owe Wilson $39 million in salary this upcoming season whether he's on their team or not. If they part ways, they'll also have to take an $85 million dead cap hit, more than doubling the record $40-plus million the Falcons incurred in dead cap charges following QB Matt Ryan’s departure from Atlanta last year.

Despite benching Wilson after he threw for 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions in a bounce-back 2023 season, the Broncos have hinted a Wilson return was possible.

Wilson said he could play for Payton again and that he hadn't pondered other possible destinations. At one point in the podcast, Marshall joked with Wilson about where he'd live if he stayed in Denver given a recent report that Wilson and his wife, Ciara, are showing their $25 million Cherry Hills mansion to potential buyers.

“It's not on the market right now,” Wilson said.

That could change soon.

Since Manning retired following Denver's triumph in Super Bowl 50, the Broncos have churned through five head coaches and 13 starting quarterbacks while going 52-79, missing the playoffs all eight seasons and posting seven consecutive losing seasons.



Arnie Stapleton, The Associated Press