The dead money hit on Russell Wilson obliterates league record

Mar 4, 2024, 3:34 PM | Updated: 3:42 pm

The Broncos informed Russell Wilson they would release him Monday. They’ll feel the effects for another two years by absorbing more dead money from one player than any other in NFL history.

And to make matters worse, the dead money incurred by the Broncos is not only a league record — but it’s more than the previous two dead-money leaders combined.

$85 million.

It’s a breathtaking figure. And the Broncos chose to absorb that rather than have him on the team for the fifth day of the league year. Had he been on the roster March 17, another $37 million — his base salary for 2025 — would have become guaranteed.

$85 million to not play was deemed better than $112 million to stick around. And a reason why may rest in the outcomes for some of the other teams who took on gargantuan dead-money figures — although none are in the Broncos’ class.


1. Russell Wilson, Broncos: $85 million

  • The Broncos could spread this over two years — either with a $35.4 million hit for 2024 and a $49.6 million figure for 2025, or with a $53 million/$32 million split. In either case, each of those individual numbers would be in the top six single-season figures in league history.

2. Matt Ryan, Falcons: $40,525,000

  • Atlanta is still wandering in the QB wilderness after parting ways with Ryan in 2022. Now, the Falcons could be among the candidates to land Wilson. Funny how that works.

3. Aaron Rodgers, Packers: $40,313,570

  • The Packers swallowed the pill, turned over the reins to Jordan Love … and returned to the playoffs despite the massive dead-money hit. In fact, four of the five teams with the largest team-wide dead-money figures made the playoffs last year: Green Bay, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. But all were in the NFC, which lacks the AFC’s star power at QB.

4. Tom Brady, Buccaneers: $35,100,000

  • In this case, the team didn’t have the choice of cutting or trading the player involved; Brady retired. The Bucs managed to absorb this thanks to Baker Mayfield playing well over his low-cost contract — and even improved their record by one game and their playoff foray by one round without Brady and with a team-wide dead-money figure north of $60 million.

5. Carson Wentz, Eagles: $33,820,608

  • As with the Bucs and Packers, the dead-money figure didn’t keep the Eagles from making the playoffs. But that requires a proficient, cost-controlled quarterback.


Sean Payton and the Broncos decided that having a dead-money charge of $85 million for Russell Wilson to NOT play for them was better than a potential $112 million outlay for having him on their roster the next two years. That says it all about

But as CEO and controlling owner Greg Penner noted in January, the decision is based around winning games.

“The financial part of it is a significant component as you know, in terms of how this works out in the future, but that’s not what will drive the decision,” Penner said Jan. 9. “That decision will be driven by what’s in the best interest of this football team winning games.”

The Broncos might get a first-hand look at their decision, too. Denver faces the possibility of seeing Russell Wilson come to Denver this season. Three of the leading teams who could be in the mix for his services are the Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons and Las Vegas Raiders. All are on Denver’s home slate.

Denver will pay Wilson not to play for the team. But Sean Payton believes this to be a better option than continuing down the path with No. 3. In doing so, he doesn’t fall victim to the sunk-cost fallacy. But in the meantime, it’s a massive blow for the Broncos to absorb — although it doesn’t mean the end of their chances for 2024, either.

It just comes down to getting the right replacement.


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