BRONCOS

CBS analyst Matt Ryan on Russell Wilson: ‘Russ can still play’

Feb 6, 2024, 8:35 PM | Updated: 8:39 pm

LAS VEGAS — Russell Wilson came into the NFL four years after Matt Ryan. They dueled in the divisional round in Wilson’s first season, with Ryan’s Atlanta Falcons winning.

Another postseason game in the same round four years later ended the same way: in a Falcons win.

The team led by Ryan took the measure of Wilson’s side when it mattered most. But there was a respect between the two quarterbacks. And now that Ryan’s playing days are done after 15 stellar seasons, he looks at Russell Wilson — who could be in line for another new start in his 13th campaign — and sees a quarterback who still has it.

“Russ can still play. At least in my opinion, there’s no doubt about that,” Ryan said Tuesday at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. “Whether it’s there (in Denver) or not remains to be seen.”

That is the lingering question, especially with a potential cut of Wilson hammering the Broncos with an $85-million dead-money figure.

However, Ryan also feels it’s a question that may have already been answered when Sean Payton pulled the ripcord and benched Wilson for Jarrett Stidham in Week 17.

“I think Sean — just from the decision that they made towards the end of the season — I think it’s a hard relationship to repair between those two,” Ryan said.

“That level of trust will just never be the same if they decide to keep him.”

AT ONE POINT, THINGS SEEMED OK BETWEEN PAYTON AND RUSSELL WILSON

Ryan’s maiden voyage into analysis last year for CBS saw him do three Broncos games: Weeks 4 and 5 against Chicago and the New York Jets, and Week 14 against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Broncos won two of them. Russell Wilson fired 7 touchdown passed against a single interception in those contests.

And based on what Ryan saw — and what he gleaned from pre-game production meetings, which involve the game broadcasters conversing with key players and coaches from each team, including Wilson and Sean Payton from the Broncos — Ryan didn’t see anything amiss.

“The times we had them, it seemed like the relationship was good, at least in the discussions that we had,” Ryan recalled.

“… In the conversations that we had and the times we called it, it didn’t seem as though it was headed in that direction.”

But it did. And as Ryan observed, part of it boiled down to the fact that Wilson simply got from A to B in a different manner than Payton preferred — flourishing off-schedule, rather than on-time and in rhythm.

The latter style was the strength of Drew Brees, who flourished with Payton for 15 seasons in New Orleans.

“You know, Russ played some efficient football. There’s no doubt about that at times,” Ryan said.

“I think one of the hard things is for Sean, having been around a guy like Drew Brees for a long time who played a particular style, it’s a different style of play (with Wilson). And it just didn’t end up working out.”

It came down to fit, Ryan believes. And that didn’t mesh.

“I thought Russ, he made the off-schedule plays, and was really good in the off-schedule — which he’s really done his entire career,” Ryan said. “And I think that maybe some of the other things that weren’t the right fit for the two of them together.”

Russell Wilson was good, in Matt Ryan’s trained eyes. But not good in the way Payton preferred. And after the benching, the damage between the two could be permanent.

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