ENGELWOOD, Colo. – When the Denver Broncos hit the field for the first day of training camp Wednesday, the focus on the field will be squarely on trying to end a six-year playoff drought.
Off the field, one of the franchise’s priorities once the Walton-Penner Family ownership group is approved by the league and formally introduced in the coming weeks, as its expected to be, will be working out a contract extension for star quarterback Russell Wilson.
“We all want Russell here a long time and I appreciate the question,” general manager George Paton told reporters on Tuesday. “Out of respect for his team and our team, we’re just going to keep it in house, any discussions we may or may not have.
“I have a really good relationship with Russ’ agent, Mark Rodgers, and at the right time, we’ll get a deal done.”
The right time, practically speaking, is after Walmart heir Rob Walton and his family have their bid finalized and approved by the NFL owners group. Not only will Walton and company want to know the ins and outs of a transaction the size of a potential Wilson extension, but NFL rules also require fully guaranteed money to be put into escrow when a contract is signed, so even if the sides had conversations this summer, a finalized deal is unlikely until Walton’s officially in charge and his money is mobilized.
At that point, the question will be if there’s time remaining in the offseason to negotiate a deal before the season starts. Wilson, who arrived here in March via trade from Seattle, is under contract through the 2023 season, so it’s not mandatory that an extension gets done this summer.
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Wilson carries a reasonable $24 million cap charge in 2022 and counts $27 million against the cap in 2023 under a four-year, $140 million extension he signed with Seattle. When he signed that deal in 2019, he was a record-setter on several fronts, including total guaranteed money ($107 million) and average annual salary ($35 million), according to overthecap.com data.
Since then, of course, the price of top-end quarterback play has only increased. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers signed a three-year, $151 million extension this spring, the Cleveland Browns signed Deshaun Watson to a fully guaranteed five-year extension worth $230 million, and just last week the Arizona Cardinals gave Kyler Murray $160 million guaranteed and up to $230 million overall on a five-year extension.
Rodgers’ average annual salary, then, is past $50 million, while Watson and Murry both check in right about $46 million per year. Las Vegas’ Derek Carr also signed a three-year extension this offseason that averages more than $40 million per year.
Wilson’s last contract included a $65 million signing bonus, though more than half of it was deferred.
Paton said it remains to be seen exactly how the Walton-Penner Family group will approach the details of cap management and contract negotiation.
“They have to get here, boots on the ground, and talk about how we do things and how maybe they see things, so it’s going to be collaborative, very collaborative,” Paton said. “I really haven’t been through this, with a new ownership group coming in. I just know I can’t wait to get them here and get to work, talk about what we’re doing, talk about our team and our coaches.
“They have a general understanding. I’ve met with them before, but we’ll do a deep dive on everything we’re doing and we’ll talk it out.”
Assuming the family’s ownership bid is formalized, Walton will become the richest owner in the league, with a personal net worth (around $65 billion, per Forbes) that is roughly four times that of Carolina’s David Tepper, who had held the top spot.
At this point, then, an extension with Wilson is more a matter of when rather than if. After all, Denver gave up a pair of first-round picks and three players in the package to acquire him from Seattle, and Wilson has talked this offseason about playing for the Broncos for the next decade.
There is potential reward for Wilson playing out the 2022 season before signing an extension – he’s a nine-time Pro Bowler but dealt with an injury late last season and will be playing with what projects to be a talented set of offensive skill players this fall – but also risk, naturally, on the injury front. Wilson’s first four-year extension with Seattle, in 2015, was agreed to at the outset of training camp in late July and the 2019 extension was signed in April.
In the meantime, Denver’s 2022 camp starts with heightened expectations even in a loaded AFC West thanks in part to Wilson’s addition four months ago.
“Any time you get a franchise quarterback, Super Bowl-winning quarterback like Russell Wilson, it’s going to accelerate everything you’re doing,” Paton said. “It wouldn’t have done any good to bring Russell here if we didn’t have a foundation in place. … We needed a foundation in order to go get a quarterback like him. First of all, he wouldn’t have eaten, right? Second of all, I didn’t come here to lose. He came here to win and he believed in our team.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Parker Gabriel on Twitter @ParkerJGabriel.