The NFL offseason is in full swing. In approximately one week, the window opens on the Denver Broncos that will force the team to decide on the future of Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons. Teams have from February 23 to March 9 to apply the franchise tag to designated players.
Last season, Simmons played under a franchise tag that paid him $11.4 million in Denver. He's never missed a snap for the Broncos since arriving as a third-round pick in the 2016 draft out of Boston College, appearing in 74 games with 64 starts.
Simmons is credited with 385 tackles (288 solo), 11 tackles for a loss, 37 pass break-ups, and 16 interceptions over that span.
On Monday, The Denver Post's Ryan O’Halloran joined the Stokley and Zach show on 104.3 The FAN with guest host Dan Jacobs where the Broncos beat writer was asked about the next domino to fall for Denver this offseason.
“I think the easiest thing on Justin Simmons is going to be to extend that tag for a second straight year,” O’Halloran told Jacobs. “That doesn’t mean he’s going to play on it. At least put him under your control and try to work out a long-term deal.”
If the Broncos were to franchise tag Simmons for a second-straight year, he’d earn $13.7M because there are currently five NFL safeties averaging $14M contracts with their respective teams. The 27-year-old has been a pillar in the Denver community and locker room, yet the question of his value remains.
How will first-year GM George Paton value Simmons?
In early February, we learned that Paton made an introductory phone call to Simmons where the two men exchanged compliments and left the encounter at that.
“George Paton, when he was with the Vikings, they only tagged two guys: Anthony Harris last year and Chad Greenway back in 2010. So not a lot of track record to guess how he’s going to let it play out,” O’Halloran told The FAN.
Last Summer, then-GM John Elway offered Simmons a contract extension that would make him the sixth highest-paid safety in the NFL. Instead, Simmons played on the franchise tag, betting on himself in a season that earned him first-time Pro Bowl honors and a significant increase in compensation.
However, the Broncos are currently on the books with Simmons' partner and fellow safety Kareem Jackson for $11M in 2021. This means that Denver could potentially be staring down the barrel of the league’s most expensive safety duo in a season where the cap is projected to drop to between $180-$181M, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The NFL rumor mill is buzzing that Paton will likely franchise tag Simmons to avoid losing any compensation for the exceptional defensive back. A recent report by CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora concludes that by tagging Simmons, the Broncos and player will have until July 15 to reach a contract extension.
The two camps were obviously not close to reaching a deal last summer. Now, Simmons is set to be an unrestricted free agent in about a month as the new league year starts on March 17.
The Broncos have been operating under the optics that they not only value Simmons but envision him a lifelong member of the Orange and Blue. As the old saying goes, money talks and (you know what) walks.
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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