Justin Simmons

Bengals Use Franchise Tag On Jessie Bates

MONDAY: The team made it official, announcing a tag for Bates. The fifth-year safety will be tied to a $12.911MM salary if he plays the season on the tag. Bates said last month he would be disappointed if tagged, but he and the Bengals now have four-plus months to negotiate an extension.

SATURDAY: Despite working over the past two years towards a contract extension, it appears Bengals’ safety Jessie Bates is destined to play out the 2022 NFL season under the franchise tag. Bates and the Bengals won’t give up on attempts to reach a long-term deal, but they will do so with the tag acting as a failsafe, according to Tyler Dragon of USA Today. 

As a second-round pick out of Wake Forest in the 2018 NFL Draft, Bates has been everything the Bengals have asked for and more. He quickly earned a starting role as a rookie and recorded three interceptions in each of his first three NFL seasons, ending the 2020 season as Pro Football Focus’ top ranked safety. His play dipped a bit this past year, but, when his team needed him in the playoffs, Bates stepped up recording two interceptions, one in Super Bowl LVI.

Now Bates is set to extend his current contract, play the 2022 season under the franchise tag, or hit the open market. Franchises patiently waiting for him to become a free agent will likely be disappointed. Bates and Cincinnati both intend for the safety to stay long-term.

Bates has shown much frustration over the past two years, fearing the unpredictability that comes with a franchise tag. “Hopefully, I’m not under a franchise tag,” Bates said in an appearance on NFL Network. “That’s something that needs to be discussed as NFLPA a little bit. Some of the top guys got hurt under a franchise tag. It’s tough; you only get one shot at this.”

With three days until the franchise tag deadline, the Bengals are playing it safe and making sure that they have a bit of extra time. After the franchise tag window closes, the team will have nearly five more months to finalize a deal with Bates. The tag is expected to pay around $13.54MM for the 2022 season.

Bates has long said that he is not overly concerned with “the ego part of being the highest-paid safety.” The highest-paid safeties currently are Jamal Adams, Harrison Smith, and Justin Simmons. Adams is a strong safety that plays all over the field and gets compensated more in the realm of a well-paid linebacker, making him the top-earning safety in the league at an average of $17.5MM per year. Smith is a strong safety that plays a more traditional safety position than Adams. He signed an impressive four-year, $64MM deal averaging $16MM per year at the ripe old age of 31 years old. Simmons is the league’s top-earning free safety. After playing out two consecutive seasons under the franchise tag, Simmons signed a four-year, $61MM deal averaging $15.25MM per year at 27 years of age. Bates is likely aiming for the $15-16MM per year range or is maybe willing to take $14-15MM per year for an extra year or two under contract.

At 25, Bates is in a similar position as Simmons was when he received his first franchise tag. There’s no doubt that Bates could absolutely increase the value of his deal after playing under the franchise tag like Simmons did, but Bates’ concerns over the lack of security provided by the tag aren’t unfounded. Both sides will continue working towards an agreement that keeps the safety in Cincinnati long-term with the compensation and security he desires. Until that time, though, Bates will have the franchise tag hanging over his 2022 season.

Denver Emerging As Premier QB Destination

We wrote a bit earlier today on the Broncos being among multiple AFC teams who “have trade compensation lined up with the Packers,” in relation to quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Well, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Denver has emerged as a prime location for many of the league’s veteran quarterbacks looking for a potential change of scenery.

The Broncos recently hired former Packers’ offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to replace Vic Fangio, who failed to accomplish a winning season in three years with the Broncos. The former Green Bay staffer represents an obvious and strong connection for Rodgers. Should Rodgers decide to move on from the Packers, having a play-caller that he’s familiar with could add some allure to the Mile High City. Another intriguing aspect that could bring a star quarterback to Denver is the addition of former Vikings’ offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak as passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach. Kubiak just helped Kirk Cousins turn in one of his best seasons in Minnesota.

Hackett and company inherit an impressive roster posed to perform. The defense is comprised of veterans like outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, safety Justin Simmons, defensive end Shelby Harris, and cornerback Ronald Darby. There are a number of free agents that Denver would like to bring back like cornerbacks Bryce Callahan & Kyle Fuller, defensive back Kareem Jackson, inside linebacker Josey Jewell, and outside linebacker Malik Reed. Even if they fail to bring some of those names back, the Broncos saw impressive seasons last year for youngsters like cornerback Patrick Surtain II, linebacker Baron Browning, defensive end Dre’Mont Jones, and safety Caden Sterns. The list of defensive players above may not overwhelm you with stardom, but, together, the Broncos defense ranked third in the league in points allowed and eighth in the league in yards allowed.

In addition to a brand new offense and stacked defense, Denver boasts a nice array of young offensive weapons. An impressive receiving corps is led by veteran 26-year-old Courtland Sutton, young star Jerry Jeudy, and Tim Patrick, who has broken out a bit over the past two seasons. The Broncos also have two talented, young receiving tight ends in Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam. Any quarterback looking to join in on the fun would potentially have the benefit of a two-headed rushing attack that was 79 yards short of a combined 2,000-yard rushing season. Running back Javonte Williams enjoyed a healthy dose of carries in his rookie season, and there is mutual interest in bringing back Melvin Gordon.

Rodgers is obviously a name to keep an eye on as the decision on his future in Green Bay looms on the horizon. He has said that he will let the Packers know of his intentions before the franchise tag deadline so they can figure out how to deal with free agent wide receiver Davante Adams. In addition to Rodgers, though, keep an eye out for Denver to make moves on other quarterbacks searching for greener pastures. Russell Wilson has long been rumored to be interested in moving on from Seattle, and Deshaun Watson is still searching for a new home.

Whether Rodgers, Wilson, Watson, or some other under-the-radar name, look for the Broncos to make a move for a star quarterback. If they are able to find the right fit, the move could bring them into contention for what could easily turn into the toughest division in football.

Broncos, Justin Simmons Agree To Extension

The Broncos and Justin Simmons have agreed to terms on a long-term deal, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). It’ll be a four-year, $61MM deal with $35MM guaranteed, as Benjamin Allbright of KOA tweets. ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link) has also confirmed those figures.

The structure of the contract is pretty straightforward. Per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter), Simmons will take home a $15MM signing bonus, and his $2MM 2021 salary and $14.1MM 2022 salary are guaranteed at signing. He is due a $14.4MM salary in 2023, $2.9MM of which is guaranteed for injury at signing. All $14.4MM will become fully guaranteed if he is on the roster on the fifth day of the 2022 league year.

Simmons was tagged for the second-straight time this year, giving the two sides until mid-July to hammer out a multi-year agreement. There’s been strong mutual interest throughout the process, so it’s not a surprise to hear that they’re on the cusp of a fresh pact.

Justin is one of our core guys. Our goal is to sign him to a long-term deal,” new GM George Paton said recently, with Simmons echoing that sentiment.

Since Simmons received an $11.4MM tag last year, his 2021 price currently sits at $13.7MM — a 20% hike. There are five safeties averaging at least $14MM on their respective long-term contracts, establishing a clear floor for Simmons. The Broncos already have plenty invested at safety, with Kareem Jackson entering the final year of an $11MM-AAV pact, but Simmons is squarely in his prime at 27. He is also coming off his first Pro Bowl season — during which he intercepted a career-high five passes and played every defensive snap for a third straight year. Jackson will be 33 next season.

The sides were not able to complete an extension before the 2020 summer deadline, but Simmons has since proved that he deserves top-five safety money. It’s a tremendous outcome for Simmons, of course, but his shiny new deal also bodes well for other top safeties looking for new contracts. Seahawks star Jamal Adams, for example, can now shoot for the moon in his next round of negotiations.

NFL Sets $182.5MM Salary Cap

The NFL salary cap has been set at $182.5MM, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter). This marks a sizable (though expected) drop from last year’s $198.2MM limit.

Teams will not be allowed to borrow cap room from future years, per the CBA, so teams are basically stuck with the hard cap and difficult choices ahead. However, teams do have other ways to navigate the cap, including rollover from 2020, post-June 1 cuts, and contract restructuring.

With the new salary cap, the league has also determined the values of this year’s franchise tag tenders (Twitter link):

  • Quarterback $25.104MM
  • Running Back $8.655MM
  • Tight End $9.601MM
  • Offensive Lineman $13.754MM
  • Defensive End $16.069MM
  • Defensive Tackle $13.888M
  • Linebacker $14.791M
  • Cornerback $15.06MM
  • Kicker/Punter $4.482MM

Here’s the full rundown of this year’s franchise tags, including players on repeat tags who receive a 20% increase:

Broncos To Franchise Tag Justin Simmons

The Broncos will use the franchise tag on safety Justin Simmons, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). The news was first reported by Benjamin Albright of KOA (Twitter link). 

Justin is one of our core guys. Our goal is to sign him to a long-term deal,” new GM George Paton said recently, with Simmons echoing that sentiment.

The two sides now have until mid-July to hammer out a multi-year deal. If they don’t, Simmons will play out the year with a 20% increase over last year’s tag. Since Simmons received an $11.4MM tag last year, his 2021 price would rise to $13.7MM.

There are five safeties averaging at least $14MM on their respective long-term contracts, establishing a clear floor for Simmons. The Broncos already have plenty invested at safety, with Kareem Jackson making $11MM/year on average, but in his prime at the age of 27. He is also coming off his first Pro Bowl nod after nabbing five interceptions and playing on every defensive snap the third year in a row.

Broncos GM On Von Miller, Drew Lock, Phillip Lindsay

George Paton is the Broncos’ new GM, and he’s got his work cut out for him during his first offseason at the helm. Several big decisions loom, including what to do with Von Miller and at quarterback. Speaking to the media Thursday, Paton got into all that and more.

We’ve heard that the Broncos are preparing to franchise tag safety Justin Simmons for the second year in a row, but it sounds like they really want to get an extension done. “Justin is one of our core guys. Our goal is to sign him to a long-term deal,” Paton said, via a tweet from Troy Renck of ABC Denver 7. Simmons seems to be on the same page, reiterating in a recent interview with Sirius XM NFL radio (Twitter link) that he wants to be with the Broncos for the future. “It seems like Denver wants me back, and I want to be there,” Simmons said in part.

As for Miller, he’s got an option that guarantees him significant money that needs to be picked up by March 16th. We’ve heard the team wants him to take a bit of a pay-cut to return in 2021, and Paton said that he’s still working through the details of the option with his agent. “We want to bring Von back. Obviously the legal process, it’s a serious situation. I don’t know all the details. But respect what’s going on. But we do want Von back.” Paton was referring of course to the legal investigation that stems from allegations made by his ex-fiancee. Even with that looming, it sounds like Paton wants to keep the franchise icon in the fold if the financials can work.

Phillip Lindsay is a restricted free agent since he’s a former UDFA, and Paton said the team wants him back as well. “Phillip’s a good player, very passionate. Obviously had some injuries last year. He’s a good player, brings energy, brings juice. He’s a restricted free agent, we do plan on tendering him. I’m not sure what level but we want Phillip here,” he said, via Mike Klis of Denver 9 News (Twitter link).

Meanwhile, Klis writes that fellow restricted free agent receiver Tim Patrick is expected to get a second-round tender from the Broncos. That would pay him around $3.4MM in 2021. Patrick is coming off a career year where he had 746 yards and six touchdowns. If the team decides $3.4MM is too steep for Lindsay as a split-time running back, they’d tender him at the original-round level, which would mean a team signing him to an offer sheet wouldn’t have to give up any draft pick.

Finally, Paton also talked about the elephant in the room, Drew Lock and his job security. “Obviously did a deep dive with Drew. Very talented, was inconsistent at times. Has a lot to work on. I’ve spoken with Drew, he’s here every day. He’s here early. He really wants to be great,” Paton said, before adding we’re always going to try and bring in competition at every position and quarterback as well. But I like the track that Drew is on,” Klis tweets.

Those certainly don’t sound like the words of someone who’s committed to Lock as his 2021 starter. Things are up in the air, but we should continue to expect Denver to sniff around potential upgrades while having Lock as the fall-back option if nothing falls into their laps.

Broncos Preparing To Tag Justin Simmons

After failing to come to terms on a Broncos extension ahead of last summer’s deadline, Justin Simmons played the 2020 season on the franchise tag. He again profiles as the Broncos’ top free agent. Despite a new GM running the show in Denver now, the team’s handling of Simmons is not expected to change.

The Broncos are preparing to use their 2021 tag on the standout safety, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. Teams have until March 9 to apply franchise tags, and the Broncos do not intend to let Simmons hit the market.

Since Simmons received an $11.4MM tag last year, his 2021 price would rise to $13.7MM. There are five safeties averaging at least $14MM on their respective long-term contracts, establishing a clear floor for Simmons. The Broncos already have plenty invested at safety, with Kareem Jackson entering the final year of an $11MM-AAV pact, but Simmons is squarely in his prime at 27. He is also coming off his first Pro Bowl season — during which he intercepted a career-high five passes and played every defensive snap for a third straight year. Jackson will be 33 next season.

The sides did not come especially close on an extension before the 2020 summer deadline. The Broncos offered a deal that would have made Simmons a top-six highest-paid safety, but his subsequent performance should drive up his asking price this year. A Simmons tag will eat into Denver’s cap-space figure considerably. The Broncos sit seventh in cap space presently, being projected to hold just more than $30MM.

Broncos Notes: Miller, Paton, Lock

Broncos LB Von Miller is the subject of a criminal investigation in Parker, CO, as Mike Klis of 9News.com was among those to report (via Twitter). Parker police would not comment on the nature of the investigation, though a report from FOX 31 suggests that it pertains to domestic abuse allegations levied against Miller by his ex-fiancée. The Broncos issued a statement indicating they are aware of the situation and are in the process of gathering more info.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, a decision on whether charges will be filed will not be made for several weeks. Obviously, any allegations of domestic violence are serious and outweigh any on-field concerns, but Miller’s future with the Broncos was already in doubt. He missed the entire 2020 campaign due to an ankle injury, and though he earned Pro Bowl honors in 2019, his eight sacks that year marked a career low (aside from a five-sack effort in 2013, when he played in just nine games).

Klis reports in a full-length piece that the Broncos will ask Miller to take a pay cut. The soon-to-be 32-year-old is due a $17.5MM base salary in 2021 — the last year of his current contract — but carries a $22.225MM cap charge due to an earlier restructure. Denver could release him and create $18MM in cap space, and given that Miller is unlikely to earn $17.5MM on the open market, he may be amenable to a reduction in pay. If the domestic allegations are substantiated, he can definitely bank on a suspension.

Now for more from the Mile High City:

  • In the same piece linked above, Klis examines the most pressing questions for new GM George Paton. Paton and HC Vic Fangio will report to John Elway in the team’s revamped power structure, but Paton will have control over personnel matters. One of his first orders of business — aside from the Miller issue — will be to sort out the Broncos’ QB situation. Veteran signal-callers like Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson may or may not be available on the trade market, and even if a blockbuster trade doesn’t happen, Klis expects Paton to bring in legitimate competition for incumbent passer Drew Lock. Paton will also have the No. 9 overall pick at his disposal.
  • The contract situation of safety Justin Simmons will need to be addressed as well. Simmons and the Broncos were unable to come to terms on a multi-year contract last offseason, so the newly-minted Pro Bowler played out the 2020 season under a $11.4MM franchise tag. Klis suggests that Simmons could adjust his asking price on a long-term deal given the expected decrease in the 2021 salary cap, and he also says a second tag — worth about $13.7MM — could be in play.
  • Saints vice president of pro personnel Terry Fontenot was the runner-up to Paton in the Broncos’ GM hunt, as Klis tweets. Denver was able to convince Paton — who had been a hot GM candidate for years — to finally leave Minnesota, but the club was certainly impressed by Fontenot, who is now said to be the Falcons’ top choice for their GM vacancy.

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.