ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When the Broncos acquired Russell Wilson in March, it lifted the veil of the darkness. The franchise has stumbled through six straight losing seasons and 11 starting quarterbacks since Peyton Manning retired.
Wilson has changed everything. He makes them part of the national conversation, makes them relevant and, most importantly, puts the once-proud franchise in position to contend.
The Broncos were never hedging their bet on his future, especially after he has done everything to help change their culture since he stepped foot in the city.
Wilson is not going anywhere anytime soon. The Broncos and Wilson agreed to a five-year, $245 million contract extension with $165 million guaranteed, and a $50 million signing bonus, a source told Denver7 on Thursday. This represents the second most guaranteed money in NFL history behind Browns suspended quarterback DeShaun Watson ($203 million) and ties Wilson to the Broncos for the next seven seasons.
The $49 million average annual value of the extension ranks second to Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers ($50.3 million). The option bonuses and contracts in the first three years are guaranteed when Wilson will be paid $124 million. While this is a record-setting deal for the Broncos, it allows for salary cap flexibility, an important aspect to the star quarterback.
Wilson reacted to the news on Twitter this morning.
ALL THE GLORY TO JESUS!!! 🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾#HEisKING— Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) September 1, 2022
And he spoke at press conference after Thursday's practice about his new deal. He and Ciara FaceTimed Broncos general manager George Paton at 11:45 p.m. Wednesday night to let him know they had agreed on the contract extension, meeting the deadline.
Paton was asleep and messed up the call, so they called back.
"It was the best I have ever felt after getting a deal done," Paton said at the news conference.
Paton said for months that the team planned to get a deal done with the nine-time Pro Bowler. First, the new ownership had to take over, given the amount of the transaction involved. The Penner-Walton family's $4.65 billion purchase of the team was approved earlier this month. CEO Greg Penner downplayed Wilson contract talk at his initial press conference, while admitting they were thrilled with the quarterback.
Behind the scenes, the parties went to work. Wilson becomes the league's second highest-paid player in guaranteed money behind Watson and ahead of Arizona's Kyler Murray ($160 million), Rodgers ($150.8 million) and Buffalo's Josh Allen ($150 million).
Wilson waived his no-trade clause in March to come to Denver. He has since relocated to the city and become good friends with Broncos Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Wilson's goal is to play 10 to 12 more years.
"It's about winning. It's a lifestyle," Wilson has said repeatedly. "I came here to win Super Bowls."
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The catalyst on getting a deal done was new ownership taking over. Paton had been talking with Wilson's agent since March. But Penner became actively involved and worked with Paton this month to get a deal hammered out. The sheer amount of money makes this deal hard to contextualize on first blush.
However, Wilson, 33, took a fair contract when viewing industry trends. He did not reset the market — that will likely come from younger quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert — and it allows for money in a salary cap sport to build a championship team around Wilson. Per sources, Wilson will receive a $50 million signing bonus — meaning he makes $57 million this season when adding in his previous $5 million roster bonus and $2 million salary. He is due $20 million in March in a roster bonus. That means $77 million paid out in the first eight months of the deal, which explains why the new ownership played a significant role.
Wilson's goal was not to become the highest paid player. To be considered an all-time great — he's already on a Hall of Fame track — the only missing element is more championships. He owns one Super Bowl ring, smashing the Broncos in Super Bowl 48, and has appeared in the game twice.
When asked why Wilson did not try to reset the quarterback market and instead created salary cap flexibility for the team, Wilson said: "It wasn't about how much (money), it was about how many (championships)."
Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said Wilson had quickly put a stamp on the organization.
"When he talks about how much he loves the process, waking up early in the morning, and pushing all the guys and the coaches, it's true. And inspiring," Hackett said — which Paton agreed with.
Paton said Wilson has already had a dramatic effect on the organization on and off the field.
“His leadership, work-ethic and championship mentality have helped elevate our team in partnership with Coach Hackett, his teammates and the staff. I’d like to thank Greg Penner and our entire ownership group for the support and resources to get this long-term extension done,” Paton said in a statement. “I also appreciate the collaboration and communication with Russell’s agent, Mark Rodgers, along with Rich Hurtado on our staff. We will continue to focus on building and maintaining a championship roster with Russell as our quarterback well into the future.”
Broncos owner and CEO Greg Penner said it was an exciting day to be able to sign Wilson to an extension.
“I want to commend George Paton and his staff for their hard work and diligence in reaching this agreement, which has been a top priority for our organization,” Penner said. “In addition to being a terrific quarterback and winner, Russell is a dynamic leader whose positive impact is felt throughout our entire team and community. Or organization is fully committed to winning and competing for Super Bowls with Russell as a Bronco for many years to come.”
The Broncos begin their quest for a fourth Super Bowl ring when they open the season Sept. 12 at Seattle against Wilson's former team. It is the first of many Wilson big moments to come.