Justin Simmons

AFC West Notes: Broncos, Brown, Chiefs

Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell required hospitalization after contracting the coronavirus, according to the team. The second-year Denver DC was hospitalized last week but discharged Sunday, Mike Klis of 9News tweets. He remains away from the team, recovering at home. Donatell, 63, has been battling COVID-19 symptoms since Oct. 31 and has missed the past three games. Donatell, who is in his third stint with the franchise, one of a few Broncos staffers to have contracted the virus. Running backs coach Curtis Modkins did so in October, and offensive line coach Mike Munchak was in the team’s COVID protocol. GM John Elway and team president Joe Ellis tested positive for the virus. Elway announced he has recovered, while Ellis has been in quarantine for nearly three weeks and has yet to be cleared to return, Klis notes.

Here is the latest from the AFC West:

  • The NFL has expressed “serious concern” about the outbreak among Broncos staffers, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. The league and the NFLPA have continued to stress the importance of non-players adhering to the evolving COVID-19 protocols, per JLC.
  • The Raiders have been the league’s chief culprits at violating the NFL’s coronavirus policies, and their latest issue — Clelin Ferrell‘s positive test causing half the team’s starting defense to land on the reserve/COVID-19 list — could conceivably prompt the NFL to move another Las Vegas Sunday-night tilt off of primetime. As of Wednesday evening, however, the league has no plans to change the start time for Week 11’s Raiders-Chiefs rematch, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The NFL moved Week 7’s Buccaneers-Raiders game to a Sunday-afternoon window after Trent Brown‘s positive test caused Las Vegas’ starting O-line to miss a week’s worth of workouts.
  • Speaking of Brown, the mammoth right tackle remains on the Raiders’ COVID list. However, a hope exists Brown can receive clearance to resume workouts next week, Schefter tweets. Brown is naturally at higher risk of developing severe symptoms from the virus compared to most players, due to his weight (380 pounds), but he wants to play again this season. The Raiders have placed Brown on their virus list twice this year, the second time due to a pregame issue in Cleveland resulting in the 27-year-old blocker being hospitalized.
  • While Justin Simmons has not made an issue of his contract since he and the Broncos failed to come to an extension agreement in July, he would prefer to stay with the team, per the Denver Post’s Ryan O’Halloran. The floor for the standout safety will likely be $14MM per year on a long-term deal, with five safeties signing deals worth $14MM AAV or more since March 2019. Simmons has played every snap for the Broncos this season and ranks as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-highest-graded safety, a year after he landed second on PFF’s list. Citing the pandemic, Simmons said, via O’Halloran, he is grateful for his setup (an $11.4MM franchise tag salary). This comes after he expressed disappointment no deal emerged this summer. If the Broncos tag Simmons again, he would be entitled to a $13.7MM 2021 salary.
  • Former Simmons secondary mate Chris Harris will return to action soon. The Chargers designated the All-Decade cornerback to return from IR on Wednesday. The team has three weeks to activate him. Harris, who signed a two-year deal worth $17.5MM in March, has been out since Week 2 because of a foot injury.

AFC West Rumors: Raiders, Simmons, Jones

From Cliff Branch to James Jett to Darrius Heyward-Bey (to name a few of many), the Raiders have been known for their speed affinity for decades. They surprised many by making Henry Ruggs the first wide receiver pick in this draft. Their owner was eyeing the Alabama deep threat for months leading up to the draft. Citing a lack of team speed for the past several years, Mark Davis said he pegged Ruggs as the first-rounder he wanted for six months going into this year’s draft, via Vic Tafur of The Athletic (subscription required). Chosen before Alabama teammate Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, Ruggs did not eclipse 800 yards in a college season. And he spent time this offseason rehabbing a thigh injury he sustained two months ago while helping a friend move. However, Ruggs said Wednesday he is 100%, per Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area (on Twitter), as Raiders rookies prepare for the team’s strength and conditioning period.

Here is the latest from the AFC West:

  • For the first time in five negotiations with franchise-tagged players, Broncos GM John Elway did not close a deal. Justin Simmons will play this season on the safety tag. Elway said discussions never came close to a deal, but the 10th-year GM believed his offer was “very, very fair.” The offer was believed to place Simmons among the five or six highest-paid safeties. Guaranteed money was an issue, however, with Elway noting the pandemic induced the Broncos to limit the guaranteed dollars in their proposal to Simmons (Twitter links via 9News’ Mike Klis). Elway, who said late last season Simmons would be a priority, still wants to extend the standout defensive back next year.
  • The Raiders are beginning their first season in Las Vegas, but the prospects of the NFL moving to Nevada surfaced in January 2016. Davis adds that Vegas was after the Raiders “for years” before those talks began. “We got our ass kicked in L.A., and we went back to Oakland with our tails between our legs. And then (Coliseum Authority executive director Scott) McKibben backtracked and tripled our lease, and it was total disrespect. It was like, how are we going to work with these people?” Davis said. “Vegas had been after us for years, but I told them I will only talk to you if Oakland and Los Angeles don’t happen.” The NFL in 2016 voted to send the Rams to Los Angeles and placed the Chargers ahead of the Raiders in the pecking order. The Raiders then spent three years as a lame-duck team in Oakland.
  • Chris Jones‘ contract trails both Fletcher Cox‘s 2016 extension ($17.1MM per year) and Grady Jarrett‘s pact in 2019 ($17MM AAV) in terms of two-year payouts, leading Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap to label it a Chiefs-friendly deal. Jones’ four-year, $80MM extension is essentially a two-year deal. The Chiefs, who did this deal without including a signing bonus, would incur no dead money by moving Jones in 2022. Through those two years, Jones will see $37.6MM — which is also well behind Aaron Donald‘s $60MM two-year total.

Fallout From Negotiations Between Broncos, Justin Simmons

Talented Broncos safety Justin Simmons will play out the 2020 season under the franchise tag, as player and team were unable to come to terms on an extension prior to Wednesday’s deadline. Simmons was not alone in that regard, as only two of the league’s franchised players this year ended up signing long-term deals.

As Mike Klis of 9News.com writes, Denver put forth what it believed to be a competitive offer, a proposal that would have made Simmons one of the top five or six highest-paid safeties in the game. Currently, the Ravens’ Earl Thomas is the fifth-highest-paid safety in terms of AAV ($13.75MM), but the sixth-highest, the Patriots’ Devin McCourty, has an AAV of $11.5MM. Simmons’ franchise tender will pay him just shy of $11.5MM this year, so it could be that a long-term pact featuring a similar yearly average was not appealing to him.

Of course, it’s unclear how much the Broncos were offering in terms of guaranteed money, but Simmons was shooting for a top-of-the-market deal that would have paid him an average of roughly $15MM per year with around $30MM in guarantees. It does not sound like Denver was prepared to go that high, particularly in light of the current financial uncertainty.

Interestingly, negotiations between the two sides were always described as tension-free. Simmons said earlier this year that he was content to play on the tag, and when a deal was not reached by the deadline, Klis noted that Simmons and the Broncos “amicably agreed to disagree.”

But Simmons certainly seems annoyed that the did not get the deal he was hoping for. “If the Broncos wanted to get a deal done, they would’ve,” he said on today’s episode of Good Morning Football (link via Kevin Patra of NFL.com). “And so the reality is another year on the franchise tag is like a contract year all over again.”

The 26-year-old defender said he should be even better in his second year in head coach Vic Fangio‘s defensive scheme, and if he is, he will surely bring home a top-dollar deal in 2021. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 overall safety last season and led all safeties with 15 passes defensed. He also intercepted a career-high four passes.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Justin Simmons To Play Season On Tag

After going 4-for-4 in extensions for franchise-tagged players during his GM tenure, John Elway will not finalize an agreement with the Broncos’ most recent tag recipient. This was the expectation. The sides are not believed to have been close on terms since they exchanged offers in April.

The Broncos and Justin Simmons amicably agreed to disagree Wednesday, per Mike Klis of 9News (on Twitter). Simmons will play the season on his $11.4MM tag price, joining Vikings safety Anthony Harris in that regard.

Denver had previously extended Matt Prater, Ryan Clady, Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller. While the team had not used the tag since Miller’s 2016 deadline-day deal, Elway identified Simmons as the team’s top in-house priority this offseason. Simmons has signed his tender and is on track to be at training camp for the Broncos.

Simmons, who graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 overall safety last season (behind Harris), emerged as the top player to come out of the Broncos’ 2016 draft class. Last season, the former third-round pick led all safeties with 15 passes defensed and intercepted a career-high four passes. The Broncos will now have two $11MM-per-year safeties, with Kareem Jackson entering the second season of his three-year, $33MM pact. Simmons stands to cost more. It is believed he wants to be paid north of $14MM per year. That is the new going rate for top safeties.

Minutes away from the tag deadline, only Chris Jones has finalized a deal. Derrick Henry and the Titans are on the doorstep, however. That will send the other 12 franchise-tagged players into the season on one-year deals.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: How Many Tagged Players Will Land Extensions?

A day away from the deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign extensions, the NFL finally saw a player from this year’s group do so. The Chiefs’ Chris Jones extension represents the outlier move thus far. Discounting Jones’ deal, how many more tagged players will sign by the 3pm CT deadline Wednesday?

The 14 remaining tagged players reside in limbo for various reasons — from uncertainties about their career trajectories to the pandemic clouding the NFL’s financial future. There could be plenty of players going through the 2020 season on guaranteed one-year deals, which would both table key negotiations for several months and add to the 2021 free agent market.

Here is how everything looks with the tagged group as of Tuesday afternoon:

Already Signed Tag

*Received transition tag (vs. franchise tag)

Hasn’t Signed Tag, Won’t Hold Out

Hasn’t Signed Tag, Threatening Holdout

More players were tagged this year than in 2018 and ’19 combined. This represents the largest contingent of tagged performers since 2012, when 19 were tagged. That also came in an era when of salary cap stagnancy. After steady cap growth since 2014, the league’s best hope may be for the 2021 cap to plateau. The coronavirus has threatened to keep fans out of stadiums, with limited capacity being the likely best-case scenario. That will cost the league upwards of $3 billion, and the NFL-NFLPA talks about how to manage this have transpired for several weeks without a resolution.

But deadlines, per the cliche, incite action. Will this year be the exception? Are teams willing to carry big tag salaries on their books? Or will they prefer that to signing off on long-term extensions before the cap reality clears up? Vote in PFR’s latest poll (link for app users) and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Justin Simmons Set To Play On Tag?

2:47pm: While Simmons and the Broncos are engaged in discussions, they may be too far apart. The Broncos are not expected to give the fifth-year safety an extension by Wednesday’s deadline, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. And the Broncos’ recent efforts to extend Simmons may not have been extensive, with Mike Klis of 9News indicating (via Twitter) the sides have not progressed since April.

2:18pm: Thus far, just one of the 15 franchise- or transition-tagged players have signed an extension. But the Broncos are still trying to finalize a deal with Justin Simmons. The sides are in talks leading up to Wednesday’s deadline, James Palmer of NFL.com tweets.

The parties exchanged offers in April, but nothing much has transpired here since. But the Broncos have been known to reach 11th-hour extension agreements with tagged players. They extended Demaryius Thomas minutes before the 2015 deadline and re-upped Von Miller on deadline day the following summer. With the Broncos also extending Matt Prater (2012) and Ryan Clady (’13) after tagging them, they are 4-for-4 in this department under John Elway.

The 10th-year Broncos GM has said for months keeping Simmons was a top priority. The 26-year-old defender led all safeties with 15 passes defensed last season, when he finished as Pro Football Focus’ second-highest-graded safety.

Simmons has signed his tender, locking him into a $12.7MM 2020 payment. It is believed he wants to surpass $14MM per year on a long-term accord, which is the new standard for safeties. After 2018’s market dip, four safeties now top $14MM annually. The Bears’ Eddie Jackson, whose rise began under Broncos HC Vic Fangio, leads the pack at $14.6MM AAV.

Denver already has a highly paid safety in Kareem Jackson. The Broncos gave him a three-year, $33MM deal in 2019. However, that pact includes no guaranteed money beyond 2020. The Broncos have a team option on Jackson next year, so a Simmons extension may not overlap with his 32-year-old teammate’s for too long.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Broncos’ Justin Simmons To Sign Tender

Broncos safety Justin Simmons has accepted his franchise tender, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Simmons will make it all official this weekend, ensuring that he’ll be back in Denver this season.

Simmons previously indicated that he wouldn’t skip Broncos activities and he ultimately kept his word. There was some speculation that agent Todd France would talk him into playing hardball, but that never came to fruition. Now, Simmons is set to play out the season on a one-year, $12.7MM deal.

Bears standout Eddie Jackson stands as the league’s highest-paid safety at $14.6MM per year, and Simmons would like to top that figure. The belief is that Simmons wants a deal that pays him ~$14MM annually, but the Broncos already have his partner Kareem Jackson on a three-year, $33MM deal. There’s clear mutual interest in a longer arrangement, but it’s an expensive proposition.

Simmons, 27 in November, graded out as the 2nd best safety in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus. The traditional stats also positioned him as a stud – four interceptions, 15 passes defended, and 93 tackles, tied for the second-highest tally on the team.

With Simmons’ contract squared away, there are four stragglers left in the NFL. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, Buccaneers edge rusher Shaquil Barrett, Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, and Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue remain unsigned, and at least one of those players seems destined for a holdout (we’re looking at you, Yannick). Teams have until July 15th to hammer out long-term deals with each of those franchise-tagged players. If not, the two sides will have to wait until next year to resume talks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Status Of All 15 Tagged Players Prior to July 15 Extension Deadline

The clock is ticking for tagged players to sign extensions with their teams, per the league calendar.

July 15: At 4:00 p.m., New York time, deadline for any club that designated a Franchise Player to sign such player to a multiyear contract or extension. After this date, the player may sign only a one-year contract with his prior club for the 2020 season, and such contract cannot be extended until after the club’s last regular season game.

With less than nine days remaining until the deadline, let’s take a look at where each of the 15 tagged players stand.

Already Signed Tag

*Received transition tag (vs. franchise tag)

Haven’t Signed Tag, Won’t Hold Out

Haven’t Signed Tag, Threatening Hold Out

AFC Notes: Simmons, Newton, Ravens

Broncos safety Justin Simmons has still not signed his franchise tender, and like most players seeking new contracts, Simmons’ negotiations have been impacted in a big way by the pandemic. As a result, Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post believes Simmons is more likely to play out the 2020 campaign on his $12.7MM tender than land a multi-year pact. The one caveat to that would be if Simmons is willing to give Denver a hometown discount, but there have been no real indications that he is willing to do so.

However, O’Halloran does not expect the process to be an ugly one, and he fully believes Simmons will sign his tender and report to camp if there is no new deal in place by the July 15 deadline.

Let’s take a quick trip around the AFC:

  • Much has been made of the minimal guarantee and base salary that 2015 MVP Cam Newton stands to earn under his new one-year pact with the Patriots. 49ers CB Richard Sherman took to Twitter to express his outrage over the deal, calling it “disgusting” that a player like Newton would have to settle for such chump change (and ignoring the myriad injury concerns that led to the contract). But Newton himself, in his first public comments about the financial details (via Instagram), said simply “[t]his is not about money for me. It’s about respect.” A productive season in Foxborough would lead to Newton’s market rebounding in a big way in 2021, though the Pats may be inclined to use the franchise tag on him if that happens.
  • The Ravens lost future Hall-of-Fame RG Marshal Yanda to retirement this offseason, and though the club has a number of young players who could replace him, the pandemic will likely give veterans a leg up over less experienced talents. As such, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic expects D.J. Fluker to win the starting right guard gig, while 2019 left guard Bradley Bozeman is the clear favorite to reprise his role in 2020.
  • In the same piece linked above, Zrebiec notes that the Ravens, who recently cut veteran LB Jake Ryan, did so because both sides realized that Ryan — who has only played in two games since 2017 — still wasn’t healthy and wouldn’t have enough time to get healthy and learn the team’s defense.
  • In case you missed it, Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue may be prepared to sit out the entire 2020 season if he does not get traded.

Five Franchise Tagged Players Have Yet To Sign Tenders

Teams have until July 15th to hammer out long-term deals with franchise tagged players. As of this writing, there are five players who have not signed their one-year tenders: Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, Broncos safety Justin Simmons, Buccaneers edge rusher Shaquil Barrett, Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, and Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue

[RELATED: Dak Prescott Still Wants Four-Year Deal; Cowboys Want Five-Year Deal]

The franchise tag is a sore spot for players, because it prohibits them from realizing their true value on the open market. Sometimes, players begrudgingly sign on the dotted line after skipping out on a portion of offseason activities. There have also been some notable holdouts to extend into the regular season – Le’Veon Bell, for example.

You can put Green in the former camp. The Bengals superstar wants long-term security from the only team he’s ever known, but he says he’ll sign the one-year tender if they can’t come to terms.

In the past, Simmons has indicated that he won’t skip Broncos activities, but Mike Klis of 9News speculates that agent Todd France could talk him into playing some hardball. Offers have been exchanged between the two sides, but, for now, the safety is looking at a one-year, $12.7MM proposition.

Jones – currently in line for a $16.1MM deal – has expressed frustration with the slow pace of negotiations with the Chiefs. The Chiefs, meanwhile, already have a $20MM defensive lineman in Frank Clark. Barrett, who said he’d be a good sport about signing the tender, says he’s expecting to have some movement by tomorrow, though it’s not clear if that means receiving an extension offer or putting pen to paper.

Ngakoue, of course, is prepared to go to war with the Jaguars. The two sides have been locked in a heated stalemate for a long time and the Jags say they won’t cave to the defensive end’s trade demand.