Russell Wilson’s dead cap hit, explained: Why Broncos are likely stuck with struggling QB until 2024

In the (almost) words of Michael Corleone: If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it’s that you can trade anyone.

The Broncos have already whacked head coach Nathaniel Hackett, ending his ill-fated Russell Wilson marriage after just 15 games. Hackett was bad enough on his own, but the performance of Wilson certainly amplified the shortcomings of the head coach.

While it’s easy to fire a head coach, it’s always harder to fire a player. With Hackett out, some sights are set on Wilson and his gigantic five-year, $242,588,236 contract — the first year of which has been nothing short of a disaster. Wilson has thrown just 12 touchdowns this season, which is all but a lock for a career low. Wilson hasn’t done much to earn 

While the idea of jettisoning Wilson and starting fresh seems like a tempting idea, it’s not that simple. There are $161 million reasons why.

MORE: Ranking the Broncos’ best candidates to replace Nathaniel Hackett

Russell Wilson contract details

In September, Wilson signed a reported five-year, $245 million contract with the Broncos, that is set to keep him locked in Denver through most of the remainder of his career.

Usually there are ways to move out of big money contracts, but Wilson’s contract is structured in a way that would make it incredibly painful for the Broncos cap to cut bait after the 2022 season. Wilson is set to take an $107 million dead cap hit if the Broncos cut him, and an $82 million dead money charge if he’s traded pre-June 1. 

Whether that would be by trade or he would be cut, the consequences for the Broncos could be astronomical in the coming years (all values pre-June 1, courtesy of OverTheCap):

Year Dead money (Cut) Dead money (Trade)
2023 $107 million $82 million
2024 $85 million $68 million
2025 $49.6 million $49.6 million
2026 $31.2 million $31.2 million
2027 $12.8 million $12.8 million
2028 $4.4 million $4.4 million

Cap savings say that the most realistic option for the the Broncos to move on from him is after the 2025 season, when they’ll incur that $49.6 million dead cap charge but save $5.8 million against their cap.

If Wilson is on the roster of the fifth day of the 2024 league year, then his salary becomes fully guaranteed — thus complicating matters even further. 

All that to say: Russell Wilson probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and whoever the next head coach is will have a big reclamation project on his hands.

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