Justin Simmons

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.

2019 Proven Performance Escalators

According to the NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement, players drafted in rounds three though seven are entitled to raises during the fourth year of their respective rookie contracts. The pay bumps are tied to playing time — a player must have played in 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averaged 35% playing time cumulatively during that period.

If one of these thresholds is met, the player’s salary is elevated to the level of that year’s lowest restricted free agent tender — that figure should be around $2MM in 2019. Players selected in the first or second round, undrafted free agents, and kickers/punters are ineligible for the proven performance escalator.

Here are the players who will see their salary rise in 2019 courtesy of the proven performance escalator:

Bears: RB Jordan Howard, LB Nick Kwiatkoski

Bengals: LB Nick Vigil

Broncos: G Connor McGovern, S Will Parks, S Justin Simmons

Browns: S Derrick Kindred, LB Joe Schobert

Buccaneers: G Caleb Benenoch, DE Carl Nassib, CB Ryan Smith

Chargers: LB Jatavis Brown

Chiefs: CB Kendall Fuller, WR Tyreek Hill, S Eric Murray, WR Demarcus Robinson

Colts: QB Jacoby Brissett, T Joe Haeg

Cowboys: CB Anthony Brown, DT Maliek Collins, QB Dak Prescott

Dolphins: RB Kenyan Drake

Eagles: CB Jalen Mills, T Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Falcons: LB De’Vondre Campbell, TE Austin Hooper, G Wes Schweitzer

Jaguars: DE Yannick Ngakoue

Jets: LB Jordan Jenkins, CB Rashard Robinson, T Brandon Shell

Lions: C Graham Glasgow

Packers: LB Kyler Fackrell, DE Dean Lowry, LB Blake Martinez, LB Antonio Morrison

Patriots: G Joe Thuney, LB Elandon Roberts

Rams: G Austin Blythe, TE Tyler Higbee

Ravens: DE Matt Judon, OL Alex Lewis, CB Tavon Young

Saints: DT David Onyemata

Steelers: DT Javon Hargrave

Texans: DT D.J. Reader

Titans: S Kevin Byard, WR Tajae Sharpe

OverTheCap.com was essential in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. 

Broncos To Place Justin Simmons On IR

Justin Simmons‘ season is over. The Broncos are placing the safety on the injured reserve list with an ankle injury (Twitter link via Mike Klis of 9News). Justin Simmons (vertical)

Simmons injured himself while celebrating with teammate Brandon Marshall on Sunday. After Marshall sacked and stripped the ball from Josh McCown in the first quarter, Simmons gave him the linebacker a mid-air bump. Unfortunately, Simmons landed on Marshall’s foot and his ankle turned the wrong way.

It’s an early conclusion to what has been a breakout season for Simmons. Heading into this season, the second-year pro was slated to come off of the bench. However, the Broncos were so impressed by Simmons that they released former Pro Bowler T.J. Ward in order to give him more playing time.

Simmons started in all 13 of his games this year, compiling 63 tackles, two interceptions, a defensive touchdown, and 1.5 sacks. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 34 ranked safety, slotting him ahead of veterans like Bradley McDougald, Eric Weddle, and Tony Jefferson.

The Broncos, now 4-9 after drumming the Jets, will finish out the season against the Colts, Redskins, and Chiefs.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

West Notes: Ward, Donald, Hawks, Schofield

John Elway spoke with T.J. Ward‘s agent earlier this summer and informed him the team did not intend to sign the veteran safety to an extension, with the GM telling media (including Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post) a Ward re-up was not in the team’s plans “at that point of time.” The Broncos made Ward one of the highest-profile cuts of the roster-slashing weekend, but Jhabvala reports the team did not come to a decision on Ward until last week. The rise of second-year safeties Justin Simmons and Will Parks, along with Ward’s injury history, played a role in the departure.

Citing a lack of clarity during the process, Ward on Monday called the Broncos “completely unprofessional” regarding the separation. The divorce came with one season remaining on the 30-year-old defender’s four-year contract. The eighth-year safety will earn up to $5MM with the Buccaneers this season. Ward missed all of Denver’s preseason games with a hamstring injury and missed six games due to injury in three Broncos campaigns — two of which producing Pro Bowls. Mike Klis of 9News described the process as Simmons — a 2016 third-round pick who served as Denver’s third safety last season — Wally Pipp’ing Ward (Twitter link). Klis notes Elway gave Ward “every chance” to make this year’s team.

Here’s the latest from the West divisions, shifting to Seattle, which just made the biggest trade in a week full of them.

  • The injury to rookie Malik McDowell prompted the Seahawks to trade for Sheldon Richardson, Pete Carroll said, via the Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta (on Twitter). Currently on the NFI list, McDowell does not have a timetable for a return, Condotta adds (via Twitter). Carroll said the team could still look to add another defensive tackle (Twitter link, via Condotta).
  • Richardson will play the three-technique position in the Seahawks’ 4-3 scheme, the fifth-year defensive lineman said Monday (via Condotta, on Twitter). He will line up inside of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, giving the Seahawks one of the most talented defensive fronts in football. Richardson primarily played 3-4 defensive end with the Jets but also saw time at outside linebacker. He played 4-3 defensive tackle at the University of Missouri, though.
  • Aaron Donald remains a holdout as the Rams begin their Week 1 preparations, but Sean McVay won’t impose a deadline on how late the All-Pro defensive lineman can report to the team and still play Sunday, Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com reports. Rams reps flew to Atlanta to meet with Donald, but the sides reportedly aren’t close to a deal. Gonzalez adds McVay nonetheless remains “optimistic” about a solution.
  • A two-position starter for the Broncos during the past two seasons, Michael Schofield attracted widespread interest on the waiver wire. The Chargers won out due to their position in the waiver hierarchy, but the Lions, Redskins, Vikings and Saints also put in claims on the fourth-year guard/tackle, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. A 2014 third-rounder, Schofield started for the Broncos at right tackle during their Super Bowl season and lined up at right guard throughout 2016. While Denver didn’t sport particularly effective O-lines during those seasons, Schofield clearly has believers out there.
  • Speaking of waivers, the Seahawks hoped they’d have a chance to stash wide receiver Kasen Williams on their practice squad, Carroll said (via Condotta, on Twitter), but the Browns swooped in with a claim. The Seahawks will move on without Williams and Jermaine Kearse, traded to the Jets in the Richardson deal. Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett are now Seattle’s top complementary wideouts, and Lockett (per Condotta, on Twitter) is expected to play in Week 1 after breaking his fibula late last season.

Extra Points: Broncos, Ward, Dorsett

The Broncos did not discuss a pay cut with safety T.J. Ward before releasing him on Saturday, Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post tweets. “It was a football decision,” a team source tells her, adding that the motivation was to give more playing time to Justin Simmons and Will Parks. Meanwhile, Broncos players are upset about losing Ward and his locker room presence, James Palmer of NFL.com tweets.

While Ward searches for a new home, here’s more from around the NFL:

  • The Colts had offers for Phillip Dorsett from other teams, but those proposed swaps involved draft choices instead of netting a young player at a positional need, Mike Lombardi of The Ringer tweets. Lombardi doesn’t name teams, but Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (Twitter link) says the 49ers, Jets and Cardinals were among the teams that showed preliminary interest in him.
  • The Jets are expected to be interested in running back Travaris Cadet now that he has been released by New Orleans, Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle tweets. The Jets showed interest in Cadet during free agency but ultimately lost out.
  • T.J. McDonald‘s new deal with the Dolphins has built in protections for the team that will override his guarantees if he has another suspension issue, Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald tweets. The pact includes $10MM in “guarantees,” but McDonald can’t slip up if he wants to collect on all of it.
  • Wide receiver Victor Cruz says that he got a “clean bill of health” on his MRI this week, Josina Anderson of ESPN.com tweets. He’s now a free agent after being released by Chicago.
  • Chiefs GM Brett Veach says veteran running back C.J. Spiller could still end up on the Chiefs’ roster (Twitter link via BJ Kissel of Chiefs.com). Spiller was among the Chiefs’ mass cuts on Saturday as they trimmed down to 53.

AFC Rumors: Browns, Te’o, Jags, Jets, Simmons

The Browns endured an agonizing defeat for the second straight week, and their new kicker hovered at the center of the loss to the Dolphins. Cody Parkey missed three field goals, including what would have been a game-winning 46-yarder at the end of regulation. But the new Cleveland kicker was reportedly not the preferred choice of Browns special teams coach Chris Tabor.

Instead, the sixth-year Browns ST boss wanted the team to sign Robbie Gould, whom the Bears recently released, but he was overruled by Browns management, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports. The Browns signed Parkey on Saturday morning after top kicker Patrick Murray sustained an injury Friday. Cleveland’s decision-makers decided Gould, a 12th-year veteran, was too expensive for them. This led to the decision to bring in third-year man Parkey, per Salguero.

Gould made $3.6MM with the Bears last season and remains a free agent. Parkey, per OverTheCap, is set to make $529K upon signing with the Browns, who possess just more than $48MM in cap space.

Here’s more from the AFC as Week 3’s night-game schedule continues.

  •  The Chargers fear starting inside linebacker Manti Te’o tore his Achilles’ tendon, Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports (on Twitter). He will undergo testing on Monday to determine the severity of the injury that forced him out of the Chargers’ Week 3 loss to the Colts, Gehlken tweets. One of the Bolts’ captains, Te’o was beginning a contract year that would lose steam if he’s no longer able to play this season. The 2013 second-round pick has made 34 starts for the Chargers since his rookie season. An injury to the former Notre Dame standout would likely thrust rookie fifth-rounder Jatavis Brown into the lineup.
  • Broncos third-round safety Justin Simmons missed today’s game because of a broken bone in his left wrist, Mike Klis of 9News reports. Simmons operates as Denver’s third safety, but the team saw backups Will Parks and Shiloh Keo record turnovers. The defending champions released Keo earlier this week after his two-game suspension ended but re-signed him shortly after, likely due to Simmons’ status.
  • Jaguars owner Shad Khan has given Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley a long leash, but the team that received a fair amount of hype based on its offseason is now 0-3. The Jags are set to make their annual London trip next weekend, and with the bye looming, an 0-4 return from England will bring about a change of some sort, Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union writes. After today’s 19-17 loss to the Ravens, the Jaguars — who will now occupy the No. 1 slot in the waiver order as the pecking order shifts to reflect this season’s records instead of 2015’s — are 12-39 under Bradley. That’s by far the worst mark in franchise history for a coach in his first four years. Both Tom Coughlin and Jack Del Rio went 9-7 in their second seasons. A coach has been fired after a Week 4 London loss the past two seasons. The Raiders jettisoned Dennis Allen after his team fell to 0-4 in a Wembley Stadium defeat to the Dolphins, who a year later canned Joe Philbin after his team lost its Week 4 England tilt.
  • The Jets‘ four-quarterback setup deprives the team of a fullback, and Todd Bowles doesn’t see the team making a move at that spot. “We’re good,” Bowles said, via Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, when asked about a fullback-less roster. As Cimini notes, only 17 teams have fullbacks. The Jets cut Julian Howsare earlier this week and promoted tight end Braedon Bowman.