The truth about who will be ultimately be Russell Wilson’s next team is that it’s anyone’s guess at this point. We’re only about 24 hours removed from the news that the Denver Broncos benched Wilson to avoid possibly paying him an extra $37 million guaranteed for injury.
But don’t let that stop certain sportsbooks from posting odds for who Wilson’s next suitor will be. As the Broncos prepare to move off arguably the worst contract/trade combination in NFL history, the Minnesota Vikings have emerged as an early favorite to acquire the nine-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion.
We have multiple in-house Vikings fans here at Whiskey Riff. I’m sure they don’t want to hear this. This article might get spiked at the mere mention of Minnesota getting hold of Mr. Unlimited for even one season. Then again, head coach Kevin O’Connell has made relative magic happen with four different starting QBs, and if Kirk Cousins isn’t fully ready to play after recovering from a torn Achilles — or his murky health status leads to a pay dispute — it’s possible Wilson could be a short-term bridge option.
Although those are hardly ideal circumstances, it brings to mind a somewhat similar situation in Baker Mayfield. The former No. 1 overall pick played through injuries his last year in Cleveland, was kicked to the curb in favor of Deshaun Watson, and flamed out to backup status in Carolina. However, a short little stint with Sean McVay and the Rams bumped up Baker’s stock just enough to earn the chance to start in Tampa Bay. Now? Baker is cooking for the NFC South-leading Bucs.
There are several major differences. Wilson is far older. He actually played somewhat well under Sean Payton’s guidance in Denver. The big question is, will Russ demand a massive payday once he gets cut, or is he willing to take a little less, knowing the Broncos owe him nine figures of dead money, and enter a competition for a QB1 gig?
Here’s a fascinating wrinkle at play regarding Wilson’s albatross of a contract, too:
FWIW: Russell Wilson's guarantee next season contains offset language.
If the #Broncos release him next March, the $39M owed to him on the way out would be reduced by however much he earns from a new team in 2024.
A minimum salary for Wilson next year comes in at $1.21M.
Other destinations listed as leaders in the freshly-released odds are New England, Las Vegas and Washington. Four additional teams are just behind those. I’d like to take a closer look at which three teams I consider to be the very best fits for Russell Wilson in 2024 and beyond. Because let’s face it. The writing’s on the wall, and Russ himself sounds like a man ready to move on.
Beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to starting QB jobs in the NFL, so Wilson will need to be realistic about his prospects as far as where there’s a good chance to get one.
Raiders owner Mark Davis isn’t nearly as flush with cash relative to the vast majority of his peers. I also don’t think he wants to be hyper-aggressive and trade up for a QB in the 2024 NFL Draft with so many other holes on the roster. Plus, interim coach Antonio Pierce is making a real case to remain in his post beyond this season. In that scenario, it’s not like some big-name, offensive-minded hire is going to come in like Payton did to Denver and demand to get “his guy.”
Rookie mid-round pick Aidan O’Connell has shown some promise, but not enough to where he’s beyond reproach as the starter going forward. Wilson could mentor O’Connell, help him grow, and at the same time, beat him out in training camp in all likelihood.
Las Vegas Raiders QB Aidan O'Connell did not complete a pass in 3 entire quarters and the Raiders beat the Chiefs 20-14.
Las Vegas’ defense is suddenly balling out down the stretch. Zamir White and/or Josh Jacobs, plus an improving o-line, should allow the Raiders’ rushing attack to flourish next year. Adding Wilson’s mobility to the mix would only enhance that dimension of the offense. Oh yeah, and Wilson could throw to the likes of Davante Adams! Not a bad situation.
The best part? Playing against the Broncos not once, but twice. Imagine the intrigue. I’m so here for it. Maybe Wilson’s personality doesn’t fit the traditional Silver and Black. Doesn’t totally matter. Just win, baby, and everything will be fine! Note: Wilson’s arrival in Sin City would, of course, mean Jimmy Garoppolo is gone. Maybe the Patriots will have him back, right?
2. Atlanta Falcons
SI‘s Albert Breer reported earlier this week that the Falcons are likely to give head coach Arthur Smith another year at the helm. Can’t say I fully agree with that. Will say that Smith is a schematic brainiac who could really be on to something if he can get out of his own way. Or, you know, find a more consistent field general. Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke are not that. Wilson has a major edge on those guys as far as experience and actual winning in the league.
The NFC South is kind of a crappy division. When Baker Mayfield is easily the best QB, it’s a tough look. Not taking anything away from Baker’s resurgent 2023. I love the guy. Just saying.
Between subpar divisional contenders and a clear path to the top of the depth chart, Atlanta makes a lot of sense for Wilson. If Smith isn’t fired soon, his job is certainly on the line next season. He won’t want a green/erratic signal-caller like Heinicke or Ridder running his system. Even a prospective trade for Georgia-born Justin Fields carries a lot of risk.
…But it also reflects how mere competence from Wilson could open up the Falcons’ offense for the likes of their loaded group of playmakers, starring Bijan Robinson, Drake London and Kyle Pitts.
3. Chicago Bears
Took a long time to figure out the third team, not gonna lie. There just aren’t that many viable or appealing spots for Wilson to go outside of Vegas and Atlanta. The Patriots’ offensive football operation is stuck in the Stone Age. The Commanders are arguably the biggest toxic mess of a franchise in the sport. Pittsburgh is in a brutal, physical division, is innately conservative, and is in a sunk-cost fallacy holding pattern with Kenny Pickett at this point. Tampa has Baker. The Cardinals seem committed to building around Kyler Murray.
If Wilson is in the market for a backup gig, he could do worse than being a bridge for Justin Fields or the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. As of now, that’s where the Bears sit thanks to their trade with Carolina centered around Bryce Young. Fields has never had a wily vet with a semi-similar skill set to his in his QB room in his career. Plus, Chicago wouldn’t have to change up the offense drastically if Wilson took Fields’ place at some point.
The thing is, I believe Fields will be traded and the Bears will restart the rookie QB contract clock with either Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, or Jayden Daniels. Chicago needs to get a new play-caller for its QB of the future if head coach Matt Eberflus stays on. Eberflus’ defense has looked great of late, so there’s a chance he bought himself another season of time. If he can make the right OC hire, Eberflus may be in the Windy City for the long haul.
You saw Wilson’s numbers under Payton. That’s what a great play-caller can do. Tailor an offense to the QB’s strengths. Something current Bears OC Luke Getsy is allergic to when it comes to Fields. The guy calls plays and shoehorns players into his “system” if you could call it that like he’s throwing darts at a board.
Totally might change my opinion, but right now, the idea SP didn’t change his offense to fit Russell Wilson just appears to be a false narrative
Probably didn’t trust him enough, but that offense was absolutely catered to what Russ does well, avoiding what he does poorly
A great defense and a weapon like star wideout DJ Moore — plus whomever else Chicago adds in the offseason with a surplus of cap space and draft capital — would set Wilson up well for success. The only drawback would be a probable lack of playing time, unless Fields’ progress slowed, or if the prospective No. 1 pick wasn’t ready to play from the jump.