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Russell Wilson speaks out on benching: I still want to be a Bronco

Sean Payton and the Denver Broncos surprised a number of fans and analysts with a decision earlier this week to bench starting quarterback Russell Wilson for the final two games of the 2023 NFL regular season. The Broncos have lost three of their past four games and ostensibly sought a spark to their struggling offense, but observers quickly pointed out Wilson's problematic contract -- a five-year extension he signed after being to dealt to Denver in 2022 -- was a huge consideration for the franchise.

Wilson has had a good 2023 season by most measures, but he hasn't performed at the level commensurate with the $37 million salary he stands to collect in 2024. Even still, the choice to bench Wilson came as a surprise to the 35-year-old, who broke down the events leading to his demotion on Friday.

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Wilson's disappointment with Denver

Wilson on Friday explained to reporters that the Broncos approached him during their bye week in November and asked if he would agree to alter the terms of his contract to defer or eliminate a $37 million injury guarantee. Denver would have to pay that clause, in addition to Wilson's full salary, in 2024 if the former Seattle Seahawks star suffered a serious injury in Weeks 17 or 18.

Wilson said that the Broncos threatened to bench him if he did not agree to removing the injury clause -- a reality that came to pass on Wednesday.

"I was definitely disappointed about it," he said. "It was a process for the whole bye week. We had just come off beating the Chiefs, I was excited for us fighting for the playoffs and getting on a hot streak."

Wilson led the Broncos to five consecutive wins between Oct. 22 and Nov. 26, a streak that gave Denver fans hope that their team would make the playoffs for the first time since 2015. But consecutive losses to the Detroit Lions and the New England Patriots have largely erased those dreams, and Payton effectively decided to pull the plug on 2023 by benching Wilson with the Broncos sitting at 7-8.

Wilson's Super Bowl ambitions

Wilson has tossed 26 touchdowns to eight interceptions this season as Payton opted for a safety-first offensive strategy. But the former Super Bowl-winning coach is not known for that kind of approach, and he already knows Wilson will not be his type of signal-caller. However, assuming Denver cuts Wilson before the start of the new league year in March, other teams could be inspired to take a flier on a quarterback who has thrown for 3,070 yards this season and has completed 66 percent of his passes.

That said, until the time comes, Wilson sees himself as a Bronco -- and his ambition to win more Super Bowls has not been sullied by his benching.

"I signed a seven-year deal," Wilson said, in reference to the two years he had left on his Seattle contract and the extension he signed with Denver last year. "I want to be here, I want to play here, I want to win championships here."

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