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Sean Payton wanted Jarrett Stidham to provide a "spark" to the Denver Broncos. He provided more of the same.

Henry Chisholm Avatar
December 31, 2023

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If Sean Payton was looking for a spark at quarterback—like he said earlier this week—the Broncos’ head coach might be heading home disappointed on Sunday.

The Denver Broncos, led by new starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham, took down the Los Angeles Chargers 16-9 in an end-to-end victory. The Broncos improved their record to 8-8 ahead of their season finale in Las Vegas against the Raiders next weekend. Other results across the NFL eliminated the Broncos from playoff contention despite their win.

“Super excited, obviously, to get another opportunity,” Stidham, 27, said after the game. “This is my third opportunity to start in five years, so it hasn’t been much, but obviously was super excited for the opportunity this week. [I] just tried to play with emotion and get a win, and thankfully, we did.

“Once I got back to my locker, I texted my wife what a cool feeling it is to get my first NFL win. But with that, it’s not about me, it’s not about a first win, it’s about the team getting the eighth win of the year. I couldn’t be prouder of the guys in the locker room. We thought we played—definitely thought we left some points out there, but defense played phenomenal as usual. Special teams played great. Offensively, we just have to find a way—especially in the red zone—to put the ball in a little bit more. Really good team win, for sure.”

Despite the win, Denver’s offense looked basically the same as it did with Russell Wilson in charge.

If you look closely, you’ll find differences. For example, Stidham’s offense on Sunday out-gained the averages from Wilson’s 2023 Broncos by 15 total yards. Wilson’s Broncos, however, averaged an additional 0.3 yards per play.

While it’s impossible to say what Wilson would have done in the Broncos’ offense on Sunday, you can look back to how he performed against the Chargers in Los Angeles three weeks ago, in a 24-7 Broncos win.

Russell Wilson @ LACJarett Stidham vs. LAC
completions-attempts21-3320-32
pass yards224224
touchdowns21
interceptions10
rush attempts66
rush yards56

The numbers are almost exactly the same.

While Stidham didn’t provide a spark that changed the identity of Denver’s offense, he might have done enough to prove the time has come for the Broncos to move on from Wilson.

Wilson’s extension him pays him more than $48 million per year. Stidham will make $10 million total over his two years in Denver. It’s a bad sign when a backup provides the same production as one of the five highest-paid players in NFL history by average salary.

Unfortunately, Wilson’s contract runs through the 2028 season. If Denver moves on this spring, they’ll save $5 million in cap space over the next two seasons combined.

So what does that mean for the future of the Broncos quarterbacks?

Wilson will likely be out of town by mid-March. Stidham will likely compete with a rookie in training camp to be the Broncos starting quarterback in 2024.

And what does that mean for the Broncos next season?

Well, only one rookie quarterback in the last three years (CJ Stroud of the Houston Texans) has met or exceeded the 93.8 passer rating Stidham posted on Sunday, over the course of a season.

If Stidham is more of the same, he might give the Broncos their best opportunities to win games in 2024.

“I thought he was good,” Payton said. “I thought he was collected, calm. I thought he played with really good poise. He felt experienced relative to a guy who hasn’t had as many minutes maybe as some others. You certainly didn’t feel that during the course of the game. I thought he was efficient in and out of the huddle. I thought he made some good throws for us overall until I see the tape. I thought it went pretty good.”

In other words, Stidham was fine. Maybe even good. But he certainly wasn’t a “spark.”

Against the Los Angeles Chargers, more of the same was more than enough.

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