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Broncos releasing QB Russell Wilson, team announces, making expected move official after disappointing two-year run

The Russell Wilson era in Denver is officially over after just two seasons.

In a result expected since the veteran quarterback was benched in Week 17, the Broncos announced Monday that they intend to release Wilson when the 2024 league year begins next week.

The 2024 league year begins officially on March 13. Had Wilson remained on the Broncos’ roster past March 17, his $37 million in base salary for the 2025 season would have become guaranteed.

“We spoke with Russell Wilson today to inform him of his release after the start of the league year,” general manager George Paton and head coach Sean Payton said in a joint statement. “On behalf of the Broncos, we thank Russell for his contributions and dedication to our team and community while wishing him the best as he continues his career.

“As we move forward, we are focused on building the strongest team possible for the 2024 season and beyond. We are excited to improve this offseason and will have the flexibility to get better through the draft and free agency.”

In an extended note on social media, Wilson took time to thank many of his teammates over the past two years in Denver along with memories of their time together. He also thanked several Broncos staffers, including film room attendants, cafeteria workers and vice president of player development Ray Jackson.

He had a message, too, for Broncos fans.

“Over these last two years, you have welcomed my family and me with open arms and have embraced us as members of the Denver community,” he said. “This city will always hold a special place in my heart. Our family grew here, we made countless memories and friendships, and formed relationships that will last a lifetime.”

He concluded: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. God’s got me. I’m excited for what’s next.”

The Broncos will designate Wilson a post-June 1 release, sources said, meaning they can account for $85 million in “dead” salary cap charges over the next two seasons. It is a move without precedent in NFL history. The previous record for dead cap absorbed for a single player was $40.525 million by Atlanta when it traded quarterback Matt Ryan to Indianapolis in 2022.

Denver has two options in how it splits the $85 million. It can either take $53 million in 2024 and $32 million in 2025, or it can split it $35.4 million in 2024 (Wilson’s original salary cap number for the coming season) and the remaining $49.6 million in 2025. The Broncos are still weighing that decision, multiple sources told The Post on Monday, and they have essentially until they officially release Wilson next week to decide.

Despite the prospect of doubling the previous dead money record, money is part of the reason this move has been all but settled for weeks.

Most recently at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last month, Payton framed the Broncos’ offseason as being about identifying and acquiring the team’s next answer at quarterback.

The Broncos, of course, hoped they’d answered that question two years ago when they acquired Wilson in a massive March 2022 trade with Seattle. To land him, Denver shipped two first-round picks, two second-round picks and three players to the Seahawks.

Then before Wilson’s first season here began, he signed a five-year, $242.5 million extension that carried through 2028. Instead of a long-term partnership, however, Wilson now will depart the franchise without having ever played on the actual contract extension.

He will have been paid $124 million by the Broncos — including a fully guaranteed $39 million for the 2024 season — for two seasons’ of work.

Wilson played the worst year of his career in 2022 under first-time head coach Nathaniel Hackett, and Hackett was fired after just 15 games. This year, Wilson played better under Payton and threw 26 touchdowns against just eight interceptions, but also was sacked 45 times in 15 games and finished the year near the middle of the NFL among most quarterback metrics.

Payton grew frustrated over the course of the season with what he saw as a need to trim down the offense around Wilson and the team’s near-NFL-worst performance in goal-to-go situations. Eventually, he benched Wilson after a Christmas Eve loss to New England that all but eliminated Denver from playoff contention.

After backup Jarrett Stidham went 1-1 but engineered just 30 points in the Broncos’ final two games of the season, Payton, Paton and CEO Greg Penner all left the door open to Wilson potentially returning in 2024.

That always seemed somewhere between unlikely and impossible, given that Wilson told reporters the Broncos threatened to bench him midseason without an adjustment to his contract, and also due to the extensive financial commitment required of Denver to keep him past this season.

“I want to be (here), but I don’t know,” Wilson said Dec. 29 of his cloudy future with the franchise. “I didn’t know several weeks ago what that would look like, either. I came here for a reason and that’s to win more championships. That’s still my focus. I’m under contract and I want to do whatever it takes.”

Instead, Wilson will be a free agent unless a trade materializes.

Paton acknowledged that the financial ramifications of cutting Wilson would be “extreme,” but added that the front office has “prepared for any scenario. … We’ll have flexibility either way to do what we need to do.”

The Broncos got some relief on that front recently when the NFL set the league’s base salary cap at $255.4 million per team, well above previous projections.

In Wilson’s 30 starts for the Broncos, Denver went 11-19. Over two seasons, Wilson completed 63.3% of his passes for 6,594 yards, 42 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. He was sacked 100 times, a 9.7% sack rate that far outstripped even his lofty 8.3% rate in Seattle.

Now, in all likelihood, he’s got another football first coming: free agency.

Denver will get modest salary cap relief from whatever base salary guarantee Wilson receives from his next team, but Wilson and that team each have little incentive to go much past the veteran minimum of $1.21 million for the first year of any agreement.

Wilson Era by the numbers

$124 million: Paid by the Broncos to Wilson for two seasons’ of work

11: Wins for the Broncos in games Wilson started, compared to 19 losses

7: Fourth-quarter comebacks, a signature Wilson trait that continued in Denver

42: Touchdown passes as a Bronco, two more than his 2020 season in Seattle alone

100: Sacks taken over 30 starts in Denver, an average of 3.3 per game played

9.7: Sack percentage over his two Broncos seasons, above his 8.5% mark previously

0: Pro Bowls in two years in Denver after nine in 10 seasons with Seahawks

98: QB rating in 2023, much closer to his Seattle mark (101.8) than his 2022 mark (84.4)

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