Justin Simmons

Broncos Use Tag On Justin Simmons

John Elway indicated the Broncos would use their franchise tag on Justin Simmons if no extension occurred between the Combine and the now-twice-moved tag deadline. With no deal in place, the Broncos are tagging Simmons, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (on Twitter).

This marks Friday’s third tag, with the Broncos joining the Ravens (Matt Judon) and the Chargers (Hunter Henry) in locking down a top free agent. Simmons will earn approximately $12.7MM on the safety tag, according to OverTheCap, giving the Broncos a pricey safety duo.

Denver signed Kareem Jackson to a three-year, $33MM deal in 2019. A Simmons re-up will likely cost at least $14MM per year, the new going rate for top-market safeties. Eddie Jackson, at $14.6MM per year, resides as the league’s highest-paid safety.

The Broncos have not used their franchise tag since keeping Von Miller off the 2016 market, but Elway is 4-for-4 in extending tagged players. He reached extensions with Miller, Demaryius Thomas (2015), Ryan Clady (2013) and Matt Prater (2012) during his run as GM. Unless the league alters its offseason schedule, teams have until July 15 to extend franchise-tagged players.

Not yet a Pro Bowler, Simmons does not have some of the accolades his modern-era Denver tag predecessors do. But he finished the 2019 season as Pro Football Focus’ top safety. The contract-year defender led all safeties with 15 passes defensed. The Broncos saw enough from Simmons to prioritize him over four-time Pro Bowler Chris Harris, the last link to the franchise’s acclaimed Super Bowl-winning secondary. Simmons, 26, doubles as one of Elway’s best draft picks — a 2016 third-rounder — and the team’s best bet to establish some post-Harris continuity in the secondary.

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POLL: Who’s The Best Free Agent Safety?

As free agency inches closer, we’ll continue previewing the impending market. One of the most interesting comparisons surrounds the safety position.

Anthony Harris and Justin Simmons are the consensus top two options at the position, but determining which should is the best option for a team in need of a new safety is a more difficult proposition. Harris, has been an established and proven veteran, while Simmons jumped to the top of the pack this year.

Harris, at 28, has ranked among the league’s best safeties in his time with the Vikings. Per Pro Football Focus (PFF), Harris ranked among the five best-graded safeties in both 2018 and 2019. Over the past two seasons, he’s nabbed 9 interceptions, recorded 17 passes defended, and 106 tackles.

While Simmons does not have the longevity and track record of Harris, the Bronco graded as the 2nd best safety this season, per PFF, receiving a 90.8 grade. Simmons recorded 4 interceptions, 15 passes defended, and 93 tackles this season alone, but never graded above 80.0 prior to this season.

Most compelling to his case, at just 26 years old, Simmons could be poised to be one of the best centerfielders in football, but will teams want to gamble on that over Harris’ proven track record?

There are a number of other solid options at safety including Jimmie Ward and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but neither combine the health history and top end recent performance of Harris and Simmons.

Which safety do you prefer? Let us know in the poll below.

Broncos Ready To Tag Justin Simmons

No surprise here. On Tuesday, Broncos GM John Elway said that he’ll use the franchise tag on safety Justin Simmons if he can’t reach a long-term pact with safety Justin Simmons (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter). 

[RELATED: Latest On Broncos’ Joe Flacco]

Simmons has already said that he’s expecting to be tagged, though he’s optimistic about the one-year cuff leading to a multi-year agreement. As our own Sam Robinson noted earlier this week, Elway has used the tag four times during his tenure in order to keep kicker Matt Prater (2012), tackle Ryan Clady (2013), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (2015), and edge rusher Von Miller (2016). Every time, the Broncos were able to follow up and hammer out a longer contract.

The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus pegged Simmons as the second-best safety in the NFL last year. He’s still only 26 and he has a case to be paid as one of the top players at his position.

Last year, Simmons registered a career-high four interceptions to go along with 15 passes defensed and 93 total tackles. For his part, Simmons wants to stay put.

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Justin Simmons Expects Franchise Tag

John Elway said in December he does not plan to let Justin Simmons walk, and nothing appears to have changed on this front as free agency nears. The Broncos safety expects to receive the franchise tag. After the CBA-related delay, the tag window is set to open Feb. 27 and close March 12.

We expect to get franchise-tagged,” Simmons said during an interview with Sirius XM Radio’s Bruce Murray and Brady Quinn (via NFL.com). “We’re kind of sitting on the optimistic side of things, just because in the past when the Broncos have used the tag and Elway’s used it, they’ve always worked out a long-term deal.”

Simmons would be the fifth Broncos tag in Elway’s GM era, following Matt Prater (2012), Ryan Clady (2013), Demaryius Thomas (2015) and Von Miller (2016). All four signed extensions before the mid-July deadline. With Simmons being one of Elway’s top draft picks — chosen 98th overall in 2016 — it seems a near-certainty the Boston College alum will be tagged if the sides cannot come to an extension agreement by March 12.

A safety tag is expected to cost nearly $13MM. But the safety market reawakened in 2019, with Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu, Kevin Byard and Eddie Jackson moving the bar past the $14MM-per-year point. While Simmons has no Pro Bowls on his resume, he finished last season as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 overall safety and led all safeties with 15 passes defensed.

The Broncos are projected to hold $62MM-plus in cap space — sixth-most in the league. Although they already have a $12MM-AAV deal in place at safety, having signed Kareem Jackson last year and moved him from cornerback to safety, that contract only features one more season of guaranteed money. At 26, Simmons is five years younger than Jackson. An extension for the former will run beyond the life of Jackson’s pact, which goes through 2021.

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Latest On Justin Simmons, Broncos

Though both sides want to get a deal done, contract talks between safety Justin Simmons and the Broncos have yet to become serious, as Mike Klis of 9News.com reports. The franchise tag remains a possibility, and Simmons has indicated that he would be open to playing out the 2020 season under the tag.

Either way, he stands to make a handsome raise over the $2.025MM he pocketed in 2019, the final year of his rookie deal. The franchise tag is estimated to check in at $12.735MM, and Simmons would probably earn at least that much on a yearly basis if he and Denver can come to terms on a long-term pact.

Simmons and the Broncos engaged in extension talks before the 2019 season started, but the former third-round pick bet on himself and won. He notched a career-high four interceptions to go along with 15 passes defensed and 93 total tackles. He also provides the type of versatility that head coach Vic Fangio covets, which allowed him to play every single defensive snap for the second consecutive year.

Interestingly, Simmons’ former agent with Creative Artists Agency, Rich Hurtado, was recently hired by Broncos GM John Elway and was put in charge of the team’s salary cap and contract negotiations. So Hurtado, who advocated for Simmons in his earlier contract negotiations, is now on the opposite side of the table, but Simmons is not concerned. He expressed his excitement for Hurtado and reiterated his desire to stay in Denver for the foreseeable future.

“Obviously, we’d like to get a long-term deal done and speaking with Elway and all the guys there, they’re great and I love the system,” he said. “I think the system fits for both parties — for myself and for [Fangio].”

In addition to Simmons, Elway will also need to figure out what to do with a number of other key defensive players who are eligible for free agency, like Chris HarrisDerek Wolfe, and Shelby Harris.

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Mutual Interest Between Broncos, Simmons

Justin Simmons has delivered a strong contract year for the Broncos and is set to be one of the 2020 free agent market’s top safeties. But both sides would prefer the fourth-year defender does not reach the market.

John Elway said Tuesday during a radio interview with KOA Radio the team plans to retain Simmons, per Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic (on Twitter). Whether that means via franchise tag or long-term commitment, the Broncos do not want to lose one of their best draft investments since the Super Bowl years.

Simmons and the Broncos engaged in extension talks before the season started, but the former third-round pick bet on himself this season. That’s worked out, with Simmons notching a career-high four interceptions and 14 passes defensed (tops among safeties this season). The Boston College product made it clear he would like to stay in Denver.

I’d love to be here; this is home,” Simmons said, via Jhabvala (Twitter link). “… Being able to come in and earn the starting spot and kind of solidify that, it’s just been great. I just hope, with that being said, it works out on both ends. Because obviously I’d love to stay, and I’ve built so many great relationships.”

To keep Simmons off the market, it will probably take an eight-figure-per-year offer. The Broncos already have a top-market safety contract on their books in the $11MM-AAV deal they gave to Kareem Jackson this year. Jackson’s deal was initially categorized as a mid-level cornerback pact, but the team moved him to safety. Jackson’s contract is only guaranteed through 2020.

The Broncos also have their franchise tag as an option; a safety tag is projected to cost approximately $11.5MM. Re-upping Simmons in advance of his age-27 season would help matters for a defense that has several key contributors as free agents-to-be. Standout cornerback Chris Harris joins defensive end starters Derek Wolfe and Shelby Harris as players set to hit the market.

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Derek Wolfe Hopes To Stay With Broncos

Derek Wolfe is done for the year with a dislocated left elbow, but he hopes that he’s not yet done with the Broncos. The veteran says he hopes to return to the team in 2020, as Mike Klis of 9News writes.

I know. I’d hate for that to be my last game as a Bronco,” Wolfe said. “That would break my heart.”

Wolfe, 30 in February, is in the final season of a four-year, $36.7MM contract. He made $9MM this season and it’s unclear if the Broncos would have him back at a similar rate. For what it’s worth, head coach Vic Fangio was asked if he wanted Wolfe back and he replied, “Sure.”

Before the injury, Wolfe notched two sacks against the Chargers, giving him a new single-season best of seven sacks. That’s the kind of production the Broncos could use even after their offseason revamp, but they have many tough decisions to make when it comes to their free agents.

They’re expected to make a strong push for at least one pending free agent in safety Justin Simmons, Klis hears. Simmons, still only 26, has started in all 12 of his games this year and currently ranks as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 safety in the NFL.

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Broncos Notes: Free Agents, Simmons, McManus

Broncos Hall of Fame quarterback turned president of football operations John Elway has not needed to break the bank retaining the team’s free agents over the past few years. Ryan O’Halloran of The Denver Post opines that this offseason may force Denver to change that approach. O’Halloran looks at every Bronco set for free agency and analyzes whether the team should try to resign them.

Veterans Chris Harris and Derek Wolfe highlight a crop that includes multiple starters and a number of main rotational pieces. At just 3-8, Denver has a lot of holes to fill, but they will have over $70MM in cap space to target more outside talent and retain the internal players they want to keep.

Here’s more from the franchise in the Mile High City:

  • Regardless of how Denver handles the rest of their free-agent crop, the Broncos need to retain safety Justin Simmons, opines Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post. While the team obviously hopes to return to contention as soon as possible, the team has to wonder whether players like Harris and Wolfe will still be playing at a good enough level by the time they turn it around. Just 26 years old, Simmons fits for the franchise regardless of how long it takes them to rebuild.
  • While it had little impact on the outcome of the Broncos 20-3 loss on Sunday against the Bills, kicker Brandon McManus told reporters postgame that the weather conditions in Buffalo resulted in the most difficult kick of his career, according to Ryan O’Halloran of The Denver Post. With seventeen mile per hour winds at kickoff, McManus managed to make a 45-yard field goal kicking against the win, accounting for the teams only points. However, his two kickoffs against the win failed to reach the Bills ten-yard line.

Broncos, Justin Simmons Had Contract Talks

The Broncos and starting free safety Justin Simmons briefly engaged in contract talks before the regular season started but have since tabled them, as Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post writes. Simmons is eligible for free agency in March, and he previously stated that he would like to remain in Denver on a long-term basis.

It sounds as if the two sides could reopen talks at any time. GM John Elway has made a habit of hammering out extensions with players in-season, and with seven current starters playing out their contract years, it makes sense for Elway to use some of the $13.6MM in cap space created by Joe Flacco‘s recent restructure to take care of one or two of those players before the season ends.

Elway and new head coach Vic Fangio are fans of Simmons, who may not be a household name but who is a young and promising talent with the type of versatility that Fangio prioritizes. The 2016 third-rounder was one of just three players in the league to play all of his club’s defensive snaps in 2018, and he has posted seven interceptions in his brief career.

With respect to getting a deal done during the season, Simmons said, “[w]e’ll see where we’re at (later in the season) and if something is going to get done, it will. If not, we’ll see where we’re at after the season. Not worried about it.”

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Broncos Rumors: Jackson, Harris, Leary

While the cornerstone Broncos secondary cog remains away from the team, the player that helped (indirectly) create the Chris Harris situation may be slated for a hybrid role. Kareem Jackson has continued to line up at safety during Broncos OTAs, Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post notes. Given $11MM AAV in March, Jackson joins Justin Simmons as a first-string safety when the team has used its base formation thus far. However, the longtime Texans cornerback moves into his more familiar role when the Broncos shift to their sub-packages, O’Halloran adds. Jackson spent some of the 2018 offseason at safety and began the regular season there, but once Andre Hal returned after his cancer diagnosis, Jackson was shuttled back to corner.

The Broncos appear to be planning to use Harris and Bryce Callahan as base corners, with Jackson and Simmons on the back line. Denver released four-year safety starter Darian Stewart earlier this year and did not use a draft choice on a safety. Oft-used sub player Will Parks remains behind Jackson and Simmons, however, with Su’a Cravens and Jamal Carter still in the mix. But it is not known yet who Simmons’ sidekick in nickel and dime sets will be.

Shifting to the latest on Harris, here is more from Denver:

  • The ice between Harris and John Elway appears to be thawing. The sides have resumed negotiations, and the All-Pro corner’s $15MM asking price has come down a bit. It appears Harris will be receiving a raise, and Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets the Broncos and their ninth-year corner are discussing what would be a “big” 2019 salary spike. But interestingly, said big raise may just be for this season. Teams normally like to add control in exchange for salary hikes, but at this point, Harris may still be headed toward a contract year and 2020 free agency. The prospective one-year bump centers around the reality that the Broncos need Harris to contend this season, Renck adds.
  • Continuing with the Denver secondary, Simmons is entering his walk year. The 2016 third-round pick became a full-time player for the Broncos in 2017 and was their only defender to play every snap last season (1,078). Simmons is focused on a Broncos extension. “Obviously when it’s all said and done, if I had a choice I would stay here,”Simmons said (via The Athletic’s Nicki Jhabvala, subscription required), “not even a question of looking elsewhere or anything like that.” The Broncos have three starters from the 2016 draft, with Adam Gotsis and Connor McGovern 1.0 also in contract years, but it is not certain any will command lofty salaries. The Broncos’ highest-profile walk-year players are seasoned veterans (Harris, Emmanuel Sanders) rather than rookie-salary cogs on the verge of big money.
  • Ronald Leary has ended both of his Broncos campaigns on IR, last season’s Achilles injury occurring in October. But the veteran guard is set to be back as a starter, after seeing $5MM in 2019 injury guarantees kick in earlier this year. The 30-year-old blocker is on track to begin participating in OTAs next week, Alex Marvez of Sirius XM Radio tweets. The Broncos have moved Leary back to right guard, where he played in 2017. Leary was not on board with being moved to left guard last year, Marvez adds. Second-round pick Dalton Risner is expected to be Denver’s starting left guard.