These Factors Will Determine How High Broncos Will Go to Extend Justin Simmons Long-Term
During the offseason, the hope was that the Denver Broncos would agree to terms on a new contract with safety Justin Simmons, who received the franchise tag.
That didn't happen, so Simmons signed the tag and he and the Broncos will be unable to negotiate a new contract until after the season.
The question is this: Will the Broncos and Simmons come to terms on a new deal?
While it would have been great for the two sides to come to terms during the offseason, I'm not going to dwell on that. Instead, I will focus on what's likely to be considered after the season ends and the two sides may negotiate again.
The Franchise Tag for 2021
First, it's important to note that the franchise tag in 2021 for Simmons will be based on his 2020 tag amount of $11.4 million. I know that Over the Cap's calculator shows it will be less than 2020, but its calculator currently doesn't account for a player getting the tag for a second straight season.
Under the CBA, Simmons gets 120 percent of his 2020 salary, meaning the tag should be nearly $13.7M for him in 2021.
Some teams, when tagging a player, use the tag amount for the first two years to negotiate a deal. If we assume the Broncos did that in 2020, it would mean offering Simmons $25.1M in the first two years.
If the Broncos try that trick again, they'll have to come up on the amount -- an amount that would be really high, because his third-year tag would be 144 percent of his 2021 tag. That comes to about $19.7M.
Would the Broncos really offer more than $33M over the next two seasons in a new deal? That's a lot of money, so we should look at other factors that could come into play.
Fully Guaranteed Money Matters
It's easy to look at the average-per-year salary and think that's where the negotiations start -- and in some cases, it may be true. But APY salary isn't the number that truly matters.
What truly matters is the fully guaranteed money, and that could remain a sticking point for the Broncos, even with some of the recent deals players received.
Consider Eddie Jackson. On one hand, he got $14.6M APY salary on a five-year deal from the Bears. On the other hand, he got $22M in fully guaranteed money.
The APY salary put him as the highest-paid safety at the time he signed the deal last February. However, the fully guaranteed money didn't put him at the top, though it was near the top, behind Kareem Jackson ($22M), Tyrann Mathieu ($26.8M) and Landon Collins ($31M).
In terms of total guarantees, Eddie Jackson got $33M, which exceeded everyone but Collins ($44.5M). That number could be argued as a market re-set, though not at the level of Collins.
Budda Baker then signed an extension with the Cardinals in August. He exceeded Jackson in terms of APY salary at $14.75M, full guarantees at $22.1M and total guarantees at $33.1M.
As with Jackson, Baker did get paid well, but didn't re-set the market as much as Collins did two years earlier.
The guaranteed money, though, gives you a better look at what the contract is really like. APY salary can you tell a few things, but not everything.
Are Safeties Worth Top Money?
While the safety market did hit new highs a couple of seasons ago, it's not considered a premium position. Quarterback and pass rusher do far more to move the needle than any other positions, with wide receiver and cornerback coming next, then offensive tackle, then interior offensive line.
And when you look at the return on investment that some teams are getting from their highly-paid safeties, it may be a warning to not pay too much for the position.
Over the Cap's contract valuation metric isn't a clear indicator of what a player should get paid, but it can be useful to determine if a team is getting its money's worth from a player.
OTC valuation puts Collins at $1.514M. Of course, context is important, because Collins is currently on injured reserve after tearing his Achille tendon. However, prior to his injury in late October, he wasn't playing at a high level. One could argue he hasn't lived up to the contract, even when accounting for his injury.
Eddie Jackson is another story, though. He's healthy and still playing, and OTC valuation puts him at $4.2M. One might argue Jackson hasn't lived up to his deal thus far.
Baker is doing better, with an OTC valuation of $9.974M. He might not be an elite safety, but he's playing well overall and might prove he's worthy of his deal.
For the record, Simmons' OTC valuation is $7.9M, which isn't far off from $11.4M tag. Like with Baker, I wouldn't call Simmons elite, but he's played well overall and is showing he's worth a new contract after the season.
What about other safeties?
There are a few safeties around the league who could be candidates for new deals in 2021, whether they are players with expiring contracts or notable players currently on rookie deals.
Among potential UFAs, the Vikings' Anthony Harris is playing under the franchise tag. He's been solid, but not as good as Simmons or Baker. I'm not positive he'll re-set the safety market.
Duron Harmon of the Lions is playing well, but he'll be 31 next season and I don't see teams breaking the bank for him. Jalen Mills of the Eagles has been pretty good, but he's under a one-year deal and other teams might not be prepared to pay him a lot.
Otherwise, the pending UFAs are either aging, not playing well or better utilized as depth or in a rotational role. Therefore, I'm not certain the market is going to be strong for the position.
As for recent draft picks who can be extended next season, the Steelers could do that with Minkah Fitzpatrick, who enters the fourth year of his rookie contract. However, the Steelers have cap issues, which can be addressed in part by extending another player, TJ Watt, who enters the fifth-year option of his rookie deal.
It's likely the Steelers address a contract for Watt before turning to Fitzpatrick, particularly because an extension for Watt would lower his cap hit, while one for Fitzpatrick would more likely raise his.
Jamal Adams of the Seahawks could be in line for a deal, considering the draft capital the Seahawks gave up for him. But Adams has missed several games because he's been hurt. It's possible the Seahawks exercise his fifth-year option and wait to see what he does over a full year, at full strength.
Jessie Bates III of the Bengals is playing well this year and, because he was a second-round pick, 2021 will be the final year of his contract. It's possible the Bengals try to extend him -- though the Bengals haven't historically re-set the market for free agents, they did spend a lot this past offseason.
I still think the Broncos will have to come in with a good offer to get Simmons to stay with the team, but how high they will go remains the question.
I don't think they'll offer $33M over the next two seasons, because that money would likely be fully guaranteed and that would exceed what Collins got two years ago. If Jackson and Baker couldn't exceed those full guarantees, the Broncos won't likely do it with Simmons.
However, they most likely will have to come in higher on full guarantees than what Jackson and Baker got, and they won't be able to use this year's franchise tag to argue that he should take less.
If the Broncos did offer him $25.1M in the first two years of a deal this past offseason (and in all likelihood, the first two years would have been fully guaranteed, regardless of the amount), then they will likely have to exceed that in 2021.
They could hold the line at, say, $27M in full guarantees, which puts Simmons past Mathieu, but I can't see Simmons taking less than $25M. As for total guarantees, that would have to be at least $34M.
Collins' contract is the only one in which the Broncos could argue they shouldn't exceed in every aspect, so if Simmons insists upon doing so, there's no choice but to let him test the market. But the Baker and Jackson contracts are different situations, especially when it comes to the guaranteed money.
There's a chance that the market overall could be down for safeties, between the cap likely dropping and a group of free agents that isn't strong. But when it comes to guaranteed money, I don't see Simmons taking a discount there. That's the one area in which the Broncos will likely have to pay him well.