Justin Simmons may not merely reset the safety market this offseason — he might destroy it.
That's if the following projection from Pro Football Focus comes to light. The sports analytics outlet, in ranking the top 100 NFL free agents for 2021, estimated that Simmons, a free agent of the unrestricted variety, will sign a long-term contract with the Denver Broncos.
The proposed terms: Five years, $82.5 million ($16.5 million per year) with $45 million in total guarantees ($22.5 million fully guaranteed at signing).
After a few solid seasons to begin his career, Justin Simmons has blossomed into one of the game’s best safeties. Simmons had a 90.7 overall PFF grade in 2019, with four picks and 11 pass breakups to his name. He was a rare free safety who was also extremely active against the run and in the box, notching 28 defensive stops over the season. So far this year, he hasn’t quite backed up that phenomenal performance but has a better grade than in any of his previous NFL campaigns, proving that last year wasn’t a complete outlier.
Simmons has not only the range to impact plays in coverage, but he also possesses the ability to read and diagnose plays quickly enough to support against the run or on shorter passes over the middle in a way a lot of free safeties simply don't.
Contract Analysis: Vic Fangio coached Bears safety Eddie Jackson into the biggest safety contract in the NFL at the time of signing, and the same thing could happen with Simmons this offseason.
Although the overall value of PFF's forecast would not surpass Landon Collins' $84 million pact with Washington, the annual salary would blow past the current highwater mark held by Arizona's Budda Baker ($14.750 million). The guarantees also would dwarf what Collins received ($31 million) as part of the six-year deal he signed in 2019.
Simmons played the 2020 campaign on his $11.4 million franchise tag — grading out as the league's third-best safety and garnering his first-career Pro Bowl nomination — following unsuccessful, months-long negotiations with the Broncos, whose top offer to the 27-year-old registered around $13 million annually.
"I’m not sure he’ll play two years on the tag,” 9News Denver insider Mike Klis said Thursday on 104.3 The Fan.
The Broncos enter the 2021 offseason with just over $14 million in available salary-cap space, according to OverTheCap.com. They'd be able to absorb a Simmons megadeal, but it'd limit their ability to retain, say, fellow free agent Shelby Harris or acquire outside players such as a veteran (backup?) quarterback — to which the team has been linked.
Regardless, Simmons is unlikely to depart. He's repeatedly expressed a desire to remain in Denver, so if a multi-year arrangement falls through, Denver still has the option of tagging him ... again. The latter is a fail-safe, however, for new general manager George Paton, who's guided by the preservation of foundational talent.
"We all believe that to draft and develop talent that you bring high character players into your organization, you develop them and hopefully get them second contracts, and that’s how you build your best culture," Paton said Tuesday during his introductory Zoom conference.
Simmons and maligned linebacker Von Miller are atop Paton's immediate to-do list, and decisions on the Broncos' defensive stars should be handed down sooner rather than later.
The cost of those decisions? Stay tuned.