ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — As quarterback Russell Wilson explains it, his job was in jeopardy nearly two months ago and after the Denver Broncos’ biggest win.
It was then, during the bye week following a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 29, Wilson said he was facing an ultimatum from the team: Adjust his contract or risk being benched.
He didn’t budge. Weeks later, Wilson is now finishing out the season on the sideline. It may just be the end of his time in Denver, too.
A disappointed Wilson spoke to the media Friday after practice for the first time since being demoted earlier in the week by coach Sean Payton. Wilson will be relegated to the role of backup to Jarrett Stidham on Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers (5-10).
Wilson was perplexed by the timing of his benching since the Broncos (7-8) still have a chance of making the playoffs, even if slim.
But the warning signs were there. Soon after helping Denver end a 16-game skid against the defending Super Bowl-champion Chiefs, he said he was approached about the structure of his deal. Wilson signed a five-year, $245 million contract extension last year that kicks in next season. He has a clause where there’s a roster guarantee for $37 million if he doesn’t pass a physical on the fifth day of the 2024 league year in March.
“It definitely hurt. It was a low blow for a bit,” Wilson said of the discussions that came in the middle of Denver’s five-game winning streak. “I came here for a reason, and that’s to win more championships. That’s still my focus to this day. I’m under contract. I want to do whatever it takes. And that’s why I’m going to practice the right way and do everything the right way.”
It was difficult for him not to look over his shoulder after the contract episode. He guided the team to wins over Buffalo, Minnesota and Cleveland to climb back into the playoff picture. But then the Broncos hit a skid, dropping three of their last four. They need to win out and have the Chiefs lose their last two games to make the postseason for the first time since winning the Super Bowl following the 2015 season.
Wilson sidestepped a question about whether there was anything he could do with his deal to possibly facilitate a stay with the Broncos.
“The focus for me is this week just trying to be the best teammate I can be,” Wilson said. “That’s what I’ve realized in this whole process. Just focus on this week. Focus on being the best teammate that I can be.”
He was reticent to sign off on anything concerning his contract given the constant threat of injuries. He’s been sacked 45 times this season and 55 times last season.
“I know every time I stepped on the field it’s a physical game,” said Wilson, who has thrown for 3,070 yards, along with 26 TD passes and eight interceptions this season. “I never play timid. I never play scared. That’s the way I’ve always played.
“I love this game. I love this team. I love the teammates that I’ve got, too. It’s a disappointing thing, for sure. It’s definitely been tough on me.”
Payton said he wasn’t privy to the discussions that may have been conducted by the front office and general manager George Paton when asked about the contract situation involving Wilson. Payton added his focus is on giving the team the best chance to earn win No. 8 this season — even if that means benching a nine-time Pro Bowler.
“It’s a hard decision,” said Payton, who turned 60 on Friday. “For me, where I’m at in my career, that’s all I’m interested in, is getting another win. There would be no other reasons. Russ has had a great week. He’s handled it well professionally.”
As for Wilson’s future, Payton said he plans to evaluate the entire operation after the season before making any decisions.
“We go through every player, starting with the trainers, the strength (coaches), the position coaches, the coordinators, pro personnel, general manager, and head coach,” Payton said. “We’ll do that, but we haven’t begun at all to decide. Not just Russ, but any other player.”
For now, Wilson’s focus is on helping Stidham get up to speed by answering questions, going over game film or anything else required. He’s not fretting over what may be ahead.
“Every day you wake up, you realize it’s a gift to play this game,” Wilson said. “I’m grateful for that. I hope that it’s here. And I hope that it’s here for a long time. … If it’s not here, then I’ll be prepared to do that somewhere else. But I hope that it’s here.”
Notes: The Broncos ruled out receiver Courtland Sutton (concussion), linebacker Baron Browning (concussion) and tight end Greg Dulcich (hamstring/foot) for Sunday. Receivers Jerry Jeudy (illness) and Marvin Mims Jr. (hamstring) are questionable.
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed to this report.
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