In what is shaping up to be one of the most tumultuous offseasons in recent memory for the Denver Broncos, new GM George Paton is facing a number of difficult decisions in his first year on the job. Several of these decisions will have far-reaching implications for the present and future of the team’s roster but there are a few questions that stand out.
Namely, the quarterback situation with Drew Lock and the Broncos holding the No. 9 overall draft pick. Then there's Von Miller's future and the $18 million the Broncos can save if the team doesn't exercise his 2021 option.
Last but not least, there's the future status of Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons.
After playing the 2020 season on the franchise tag, the Broncos have the prerogative to use it again on Simmons this year at the increased cost of $13.73 million (fully guaranteed). Simmons earned top-10 ranking at safety over the last two seasons in the Fangio match/quarters-heavy defense courtesy of Pro Football Focus (90.7 grade in 2019 and 77.4 in 2020).
For as good as Simmons is on the field, one can argue he’s even better off-the-field. Lauded for his leadership and work in the community, Simmons was selected as the Broncos’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in both the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
Although Simmons doesn't play one of the most valuable positions on the defense, in Fangio’s defense, having a versatile safety of his caliber is closer to essential than a luxury. In a perfect world, the Broncos would love to re-sign Simmons to a long-term deal to keep him in Denver for a long-time.
At 27 years old, Simmons likely has 5-to-8 additional good-to-great years left in the tank and given how Denver had previously struggled in drafting early, having a homegrown player the team developed into one of the best at his position walk out the door would be bad business. Still, it is a business and both sides have to come to an agreement that works for all parties.
Earlier this week, Simmons joined SiriusXM NFL Radio to discuss his offseason and where he sees himself as a potential free agent under new leadership in the Broncos' front office. After hearing from Paton not long after he took over GM duties, the Pro Bowler revealed the latest developments (or lack thereof).
"You know I am really expecting, out of all the things that I’ve heard and I haven’t really gotten a chance to talk to George Paton in-depth, it was really just a call to let me know how excited he was for the job, how important culture is going to be moving forward and just introducing himself," Simmons told NFL Radio. "But from everything I heard and have been a part of for the past five years, it seems like Denver wants me back and I want to be there. I know everyone knows at the end of the day it is a business, it’s just a matter of it working out on both sides. That’s just the business aspect of the game."
When pressed further about the chances of him signing an extension, receive the tag or a second straight season, or be let to hit the open market, Simmons revealed his uncertainty based on his lack of familiarity in Paton.
"It's just tough because there is new management," Simmons replied. "[Ex-GM John] Elway stepped away from the GM position. Paton is in. This is his first GM position coming from the Vikings so it’s just unsure what there is to expect. Like maybe I have a little bit of an idea if Elway was still the GM and running the show from that regard. But just because it’s a whole new GM, the way he wants to operate, the way he wants to run things, and the way he wants to get the program and the organization to the standard to what he sees fit, it’s just a lot of uncertainty. All I know is that I have wanted to be there. I expressed that last year when I got tagged. I expressed that this offseason. They obviously want me back as well and that’s pretty much all I know at that point."
The Broncos have until Tuesday, March 9 to work out a long-term deal for the star safety before the team, in all likelihood, places the franchise tag on Simmons. It’s possible the two sides work out a deal before the 2021 franchise tag deadline this summer, but things seem to be trending towards Denver using the tag on him to guarantee he is at least back for this upcoming season at $13.73M.
However, just because Simmons’ representatives and Paton’s camp haven't come to an agreement for a new contract doesn’t mean the safety will have to play 2021 on the tag nor that this season will be his last in Denver. The Broncos will have a window from March 9 all the way till July 15 to work out a new deal for Simmons.
This likely would be advantageous to both camps as Simmons would like the security that comes from a long-term contract with guarantees, but also because the Broncos could manipulate his cap hit to better accommodate the 2021 salary-cap relative to the pandemic. While the Broncos are under new leadership in the front office, the 'franchise tag then work out a long-term deal later' approach is still very possible as a strategy as the team also followed this path in signing former wideout Demaryius Thomas and star edge rusher Von Miller in years past.
The two sides may not be able to work out a specific extension before the Broncos will have to use the franchise tag on Simmons, but to hear him state that he believes the Broncos want him back for years to come, and the fact that the player prefers to stay in Denver, can only be seen as a good thing.
Simmons is a great player, is an ideal scheme fit, and is an exemplary Bronco both on and off the field. If those qualifications aren’t worth paying to keep around in Denver, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone else who would ever deserve a large deal.
Hopefully, this story ends with Paton introducing Simmons in a press conference to discuss the safety’s brand-new contract that keeps him in Denver for years to come.
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