BRONCOS

In the wake of Russell Wilson, can Jarrett Stidham really be QB1?

Jan 18, 2024, 3:35 AM | Updated: 3:50 am

Jarrett Stidham is the Broncos’ starter at this moment. The question now is this: Will he still be there in Week 1?

STATE OF THE ROSTER: QUARTERBACK

A year ago at about this time, I wrote, “fixing (Russell) Wilson is the No. 1 task.”

Well, Sean Payton and the Broncos kinda did, to be fair. If you go by base-level statistics, Wilson had a passer rating of 98.0. That ranks fifth among his 12 seasons. It’s also a 13.6-point improvement over his career-worst 2022 campaign.

But Wilson’s QBR was the second-worst of his career — and at 50.9, was merely a smidgen above what is considered average, at 50.0. That season-long QBR ranked 21st of 30 eligible quarterbacks. His sack rate of one every 10.9 pass plays was seventh-worst among 33 quarterbacks with at least 230 attempts — even though the Broncos’ pass-block win rate ranked 8th in the NFL, per ESPN Analytics.

In EPA/play (expected points added per play), Wilson ranked 18th of 30 eligible quarterbacks, at 0.045, per data compiled through rbsdm.com. In success rate — percentage of plays that resulted in a positive EPA — he was 20th, at 45.8 percent.

But what is more alarming is his multi-year trend line.

Since 2021 — which, thus, includes his last year with Seattle — Wilson has an EPA/play of 0.035 and a success rate of 44.0 percent. These figures rank 28th and 34th, respectively, among 43 NFL quarterbacks with at least 500 plays to their name in that span.

In success rate since 2021, Wilson ranks just behind the maligned Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold and Kenny Pickett. All were backups by the end of the 2023 season. In EPA/play in that span, Wilson ranks just behind Wentz and Baker Mayfield — whose career hit the skids in 2021 and 2022 before his current Tampa Bay revival — and barely ahead of the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones.

Now, Mayfield certainly provides an example of how form can change. But Mayfield is 28. Wilson is 35. And in EPA/play and success rate, the last three seasons are the worst of Wilson’s career.

WILSON’S EPA/PLAY AND RANKING

  • 2012: 0.213 (6th of 31 eligible QBs)
  • 2013: 0.166 (6th of 29)
  • 2014: 0.180 (6th of 30)
  • 2015: 0.255 (3rd of 33)
  • 2016: 0.093 (15th of 30)
  • 2017: 0.081 (13th of 29)
  • 2018: 0.202 (6th of 32)
  • 2019: 0.150 (11th of 30)
  • 2020: 0.165 (14 of 32)
  • 2021: 0.075 (19th of 31)
  • 2022: -0.005 (25th of 31)
  • 2023: 0.045 (18th of 30)

WILSON’S SUCCESS RATE AND RANKING

  • 2012: 50.2 percent (10th of 31)
  • 2013: 48.3 percent (7th of 29)
  • 2014: 45.9 percent (20th of 30)
  • 2015: 52.6 percent (4th of 33)
  • 2016: 48.5 percent (14th of 30)
  • 2017: 46.7 percent (13th of 29)
  • 2018: 49.5 percent (14th of 32)
  • 2019: 49.9 percent (10th of 30)
  • 2020: 51.3 percent (10th of 32)
  • 2021: 45.7 percent (23rd of 31)
  • 2022: 40.9 percent (29th of 31)
  • 2023: 45.8 percent (20th of 30)

Wilson had negative EPA/play figures in five of his final eight starts and he didn’t reach a 50.0-percent success rate after Week 4.

That sort of data — short- and long-term in nature — provides some support for the decision Sean Payton made to finally see what he had in Jarrett Stidham.

CAN JARRETT STIDHAM BE THE ANSWER?

To be certain, Stidham has confidence that he can be.

“I’m very confident that I can be the guy for us next year,” he said on Jan. 8. “I have no doubts about that. But I’m going to continue to work as hard as possible this offseason and learn as much as possible, and that sort of thing. So, I’m excited for the opportunity, for sure.”

While two games isn’t enough for a full judgment, it also stacks upon the two starts Stidham had for the Las Vegas Raiders at the end of the 2022 season, as well as three years in New England in which he largely failed to launch, despite a reasonable opportunity to claim the starting job after the Patriots parted ways with Tom Brady after the 2019 season.

Stidham’s work in Foxborough wasn’t enough to dislodge a battered Cam Newton, signed by the Pats in 2020 on a bargain contract after injuries diminished his effectiveness toward the end of his first Carolina Panthers stint. Nor was it enough to prevent New England from drafting Mac Jones in the first round of the 2021 Draft; Jones and all of his limitations that have become evident in the last two seasons easily surged past Stidham for the job.

And while the Broncos should not make decisions based upon what the public wants, a 2024 team with Stidham as QB1 without a viable veteran addition, a first-round QB prospect — or both — in the room would be a tough sell to a fan base battered by seven-straight losing seasons, the second-longest active postseason drought in the NFL.

In the meantime, Stidham will watch and wait.

“You definitely see everything,” he said Jan. 8. “I’ve got buddies around the league, and I’m anxious to see where they go and that sort of thing.

“But at the end of the day, I’ll be back in April and ready to rock, so, I’m excited for the opportunity to come back, for sure.”

And the one thing Stidham will have in his favor is this: It will be a second year in a. complex scheme.

“Yeah, it’s huge to be in a system now for a year,” he said. “Like some of us were talking, whenever we come back for the spring, nothing’s going to be new. It’s all going to be stuff that we’ve heard before, stuff that we know how to do and why we’re doing it, so, half the time, that’s the battle.”

BEYOND RUSSELL WILSON AND JARRETT STIDHAM

Ben DiNucci had a 2023 like few others over the course of a wild 12 months that began with a franchise that no longer exists in a second-tier league whose name died in a merger.

The Seattle Sea Dragons are dead. But DiNucci’s hopes of turning his toehold on a playing career into something substantive remain very much alive. That’s not bad after a Broncos tenure that began with some playful needling about becoming a Walmart greeter after tossing an interception during a tryout … and ended with some fascinating posts on Twitter/X:

Still, DiNucci’s hold on a roster spot is tenuous, even though the Broncos signed him to a reserve-future deal just after the season ended. The Broncos carried just three quarterbacks into training camp last year after cutting Jarrett Guarantano as players reported. If the Broncos add both a veteran and a draft pick, there probably won’t be room for DiNucci after OTAs; his snaps will be scarce.

CONTRACTUALLY SPEAKING

RUSSELL WILSON: Under contract through 2028.

The Broncos face a potential $85 million dead-money hit if they cut him before the fifth day of the league year. But if he’s on the roster at that point, their total outlay over the coming years increases by $37 million — the value of his 2025 base salary, which becomes guaranteed at that point.

This is why the 2023 season was always so critical. And if the Broncos move on from Wilson, as expected, they will do so having not fallen victim to the sunk-cost fallacy.

JARRETT STIDHAM: Under contract through 2024.

His base salary rises to $4.49 million, and various bonuses — including the prorated portion of his signing bonus — increase his cap figure to $7 million for the 2024 season. The Broncos could gain some short-term cap space from an extension.

BEN DiNUCCI: Signed to a reserve-future contract.

If he sticks on the 53-player roster and plays out the one-year deal, he becomes an exclusive-rights free agent in 2025.

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In the wake of Russell Wilson, can Jarrett Stidham really be QB1?