Barring a drastic turn of events, the marriage between the Broncos and Russell Wilson is effectively over after less than two full seasons. By benching the veteran quarterback ahead of Week 17, largely in an effort to avoid paying out potential injury guarantees in Wilson's lucrative contract, the Broncos are broadcasting to the world they're prepared to split with the ex-Seahawks star after 2023.

Was Wilson better this season than in 2022, his erratic Denver debut? Yes. Is he still under contract with the Broncos through 2028? Yes. But with the playoffs all but out of the picture following Week 16's loss to the Patriots, the primary reason for Wilson's demotion is the team's preservation of a potentially seamless escape route; if Wilson plays and suffers an injury in the final two weeks of 2023, Denver won't be able to outright release him, avoiding a $37 million payout he's due in March.

In other words, Wilson's release is all but inevitable. In fact, Wilson is expecting to be cut in March, according to The Athletic. The same scenario unfolded in the AFC West at the end of the 2022 season, when the Raiders demoted longtime starter Derek Carr in anticipation of an offseason breakup. And because Wilson's contract dictates that Denver can't save immediate salary-cap space by trading the QB before June 1, an outright release is the most likely outcome. Assuming that occurs, and Wilson becomes a free agent, here are some logical suitors:

7. Buccaneers

Baker Mayfield is exceeding expectations while guiding Tampa Bay to a likely playoff appearance, and both sides are reportedly interested in a new deal. But what if Mayfield's camp is inclined to test the open market after settling for a one-year trial run last offseason? The Bucs won't be picking early in the first round of the 2024 draft due to their NFC South title bid, and their offensive coordinator, Dave Canales, oversaw a big year from Wilson with the 2020 Seahawks.

6. Raiders

They swung and missed on a big-name veteran in Jimmy Garoppolo last offseason, and after two years of watching Wilson in the AFC West, they might not be overly eager to make him their own QB. But Aidan O'Connell isn't likely to be crowned the starter of the future after 2023, and their resurgence under interim coach Antonio Pierce means they might not be in position to draft one of the top QB prospects in the spring.

5. Steelers

Coach Mike Tomlin has stood by 2022 first-rounder Kenny Pickett through two ugly, injury-riddled seasons, but after an especially sloppy 2023 season that saw him fire his OC and change backup QBs in the middle of a playoff race, it might finally be time for a bigger-name swing under center. Wilson has proven best at operating a run-heavy attack, and that's precisely what the old-school Steelers seem to like.

4. Patriots

Pretty much everything we've come to know about how the Patriots operate could be out the window if the Bill Belichick era actually comes to an end. But Belichick's tight-lipped regime would seemingly mesh well with Wilson's business-first approach, and few clubs have been more desperate for proven QB production since Tom Brady's exit in 2020. The biggest holdup: New England could have a shot at one of the top 2024 QB prospects in the draft.

3. Commanders

Ron Rivera and Co. are tracking toward an exit under Washington's new ownership, so it's unclear how a new regime might view Wilson as a short- and/or long-term option. But QB is a definite need after Sam Howell's turnover-riddled debut as the full-time starter, especially with Howell now sidelined indefinitely in favor of Jacoby Brissett. Drafting one early feels far more likely. But Wilson has ties to the area; he grew up in Virginia, hours from the team's facilities.

2. Giants

Wait, what? Yep, you read that right. New York just paid Daniel Jones big bucks last offseason, but he regressed in a big way before suffering a torn ACL amid a battered supporting cast. Tommy DeVito and Tyrod Taylor faring better in relief suggests Jones could be out of a job regardless of his rehab; he can be designated a post-June 1 release after the season without the Giants losing any money against the 2024 cap. And then there's the Big Apple connection for Wilson: Before the longtime Seahawks star was dealt to Denver, the Giants' current regime reportedly inquired about his availability.

1. Falcons

Atlanta hasn't fielded a sustainable QB since Matt Ryan's unceremonious exit, so regardless of Arthur Smith's fate as head coach, they'll be in the market. The Bears' Justin Fields registers as a much more appealing possibility, considering his youth and upside, but Wilson could be the best alternative if they can't move up to secure a top 2024 prospect. Again, he's done some of his best work when captaining a run-first attack, and that's exactly what Smith has been trying to cook up for the Falcons. From Wilson's perspective, Atlanta also plays in perhaps the most winnable division in the NFL.