With Russell Wilson divorce inevitable, Broncos coach Payton says 'we better' get quarterback decision right

Coach cited meme to explain the importance of finding a solution
NFL Combine Football
Posted at 3:19 PM, Feb 27, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-27 17:19:58-05

INDIANAPOLIS – When Sean Payton stepped to podium 6 at the Convention Center Tuesday, he faced the same problem that undermined three of his predecessors.

What are the Broncos going to do at quarterback? They are staring at their 14th potential starter since Peyton Manning retired following Super Bowl 50. Everyone in Broncos Country knows the issue, and Payton is driven to identify the solution. Only the future of the franchise and his potential Hall of Fame legacy hinge on the decision.

Payton indicated that a final decision on Russell Wilson will be made in a few weeks with both parties viewing a divorce as inevitable.

“I expect that we are going to know fairly quickly, somewhere in the neighborhood of next week. There are a couple of factors here. Obviously, the (salary) cap projections came out (with a $30 million increase). And we are further down the road with the draft class and pro-free agents,” Payton explained.

“We better (get the decision right). Finding the right solution at quarterback in this league, which is obviously very competitive, and in our division, I think it’s vital. I saw this humorous meme the other day where this was a Broncos fan with a shirt on and there were like eight quarterbacks’ names crossed through it. And he’s drinking the quarterback Kool-Aid. Our job is to make sure the next quarterback doesn’t have a line through it.”

See Payton's comments on the quarterback position in the video below:

Sean Payton: 'We better' get QB position right in 2024

Wilson is not an option. The discussion now is not whether to keep Wilson but how to absorb his $85 million cap hit -- $35.4 million in 2024 and $49.6 million in 2025, or the inverse. Wilson communicated to Denver7 on Tuesday how much he wanted to win and wanted it to work with the Broncos. After an injury-riddled, underwhelming 2022 season, the veteran rebounded, posting 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions. However, it became clear this offseason to Wilson that his time in Denver has reached an expiration date.

In the end, it is not about money or stats. It’s about fit.

While he bears responsibility as the play-caller, Payton holds the quarterback to a high standard for a disappointing offense.

Talk of Wilson refusing to restructure his contract -- what incentive would he have to walk away from guaranteed money knowing what the organization thinks of him? – missed the point. The Broncos ranked 19th in scoring (21.0), 21st on third downs (36.8 percent), 21st in sacks (42), and 20th in red zone touchdown percentage (50.9 percent).

Moving on from Wilson, as odd as it sounds given the contract, is easy. The hard part is finding the right replacement. Payton welcomes talking to and watching the quarterbacks this week, judging their talent, measurables, and their ability to process and learn. Payton has won with Drew Brees, Jameis Winston, and Taysom Hill. Only once in his coaching career has he started a rookie, Ian Book after Hill and Trevor Siemian landed on the COVID-19 list.

“I think we will be really good at this, and, to some degree, we’re glad that a lot of people aren’t,” Payton said.

General manager George Paton revealed that the Broncos were scheduled to meet with Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy on Tuesday, the first of many face-to-face sessions with the top prospects.

“It’s the most important position in sports, so it’s important. It’s not going to just happen overnight. Our decision is very important,” Paton said. “But if you are going to draft one, that’s obviously very difficult. So, we are going to put a lot of time into it like we do every position. But there are more mistakes at quarterback, especially in the first round.”

There are multiple paths forward for the Broncos when examining the situation. The Broncos could draft a quarterback at No. 12 or move up to land one. And it feels like regardless if they choose one or not, Denver will add a veteran to the quarterback room with Jarrett Stidham, who went 1-1 in his audition last season.

Is that someone like New England’s Mac Jones – who could be available if the Patriots take a quarterback in the draft – Jacoby Brissett or Sam Darnold to name a few?

With the Broncos likely to move on from Russell Wilson, where could the QB land? We break down the possibilities:

The Broncos will likely cut Russell Wilson. Where could he go next?

The Broncos are keeping an open mind, but their situation remains tricky. Sitting at No. 12, there are four teams who could select a quarterback in front of them – Chicago, Washington, New England, and Atlanta. And what about Minnesota at No. 11? Will the Vikings move on from Kirk Cousins or keep him and trade back with a quarterback-seeking team such as the Raiders? So, if the Broncos want someone like McCarthy or Oregon’s Bo Nix, they might have to climb into the top 10. That is, of course, if they fall in love with one of the prospects.

There are other issues facing this team. Payton changed the culture in his first season, creating accountability, but the postseason dream died during a cringe-worthy home loss to the Patriots.

During his time on radio row at the Super Bowl, Payton described building the roster like a puzzle. He talked about musts, wants and needs. One of those musts is a pass-catching tight end, whether that’s the emergence of Lucas Krull, a healthy Greg Dulcich or another option.

Payton indicated Tuesday that he is bullish on receiver Marvin Mims Jr., taking the blame for holding the rookie back after his terrific start. If the Broncos move on from Jerry Jeudy – his market has dropped to possibly a day three pick – it could clear a path for a bigger role for Mims. And no one would be surprised if the Broncos kept Tim Patrick on a reworked contract.

As for free agents, there was not much discussion on Tuesday based on limited questions for the local media. When asked specifically about center Lloyd Cushenberry, Paton indicated that they would like him back, but his potential salary and the strong belief in Alex Forsyth are factors.

In the end, the Broncos’ offseason will not be defined by the center, but rather by who’s under it.