Ian Rapoport (L) and Mitchell Schwartz. Ian Rapoport (L) and Mitchell Schwartz. (Photos from Mark J. Rebilas and Douglas Defelice/USA Today Sports.)

The Denver Broncos’ move Wednesday to bench quarterback Russell Wilson for their final two games of the 2023-24 season sure looks like a financial play. The Broncos are still theoretically in the playoff hunt, albeit with four teams between them and the final playoff spot. Wilson has $39 million fully guaranteed for 2024, but has another $37 million that becomes fully guaranteed for 2025 if he suffers a injury and can’t pass a physical by March. And that’s an element of this that NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo initially played up significantly:

And the NFL.com story on this, by Kevin Patra, included a paragraph describing the finances as “a key reason” and citing Rapoport:

One key reason behind the switch is financial, per Rapoport. Wilson has a $37 million injury guarantee for 2025 that becomes fully guaranteed in March. Sitting the QB the final two weeks to ensure he doesn’t suffer a catastrophic injury provides the Broncos financial flexibility if Sean Payton and Co. decide to move on from the 35-year-old quarterback in 2024. It’s not a done deal, but the late-season benching is a strong indicator Denver will end the Wilson ride after two seasons.

Reports on a strong financial component to this move were also offered by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Bleacher Report’s Jordan Schultz, with Schultz saying this decision was specifically made for financial reasons (and that the team had previously threatened to bench Wilson if he didn’t waive that clause):

However, Rapoport later tried to describe this as a “football decision,” while still acknowledging the “financial component”:

And that prompted some criticism from many considering how intently Rapoport had previously focused on the financial side. One of those critics was Mitchell Schwartz, a former offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns:

And that last point really is the key one here. The financial decision is based off a football decision; if the Broncos were fully committed to Wilson going forward, they would likely keep playing him here, but their decision to bench him suggests they’re at least considering moving on and want to do so at as limited of a cost as possible. So there’s a long-term football component to it. But “football decision” here would be about what’s best for the team’s (slim) playoff chances this season, and it seems unlikely that that is playing Stidham over Wilson (although you never know; plenty of quarterbacks have surprised this season).

What’s also interesting here is why Rapoport felt the need to put out the “this was a football decision” after so many tweets exploring the finances. It’s notable that sitting a quarterback for financial reasons is not unprecedented, with recent moves there involving Derek Carr (who Stidham stepped in for last year with the Las Vegas Raiders), Matt Ryan, and Jimmy Garoppolo. So it’s not like Denver did something completely out of the blue here (although it’s unusual to see this with their playoff chances still theoretically alive). But perhaps the Broncos were unhappy with the focus being placed on the finances versus the field by Rapoport and others, and maybe they pushed back a little. We don’t know. But it is interesting to see Rapoport walk that back this way, and to see Schwartz call him out for it.

[Mitchell Schwartz on Twitter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.