This week, the Broncos were unable to come to terms on a long-term contract with safety Justin Simmons. This upset many in Broncos Country, as Simmons has become a fan favorite in Denver. Simmons has been productive on the field while also being great in the locker room and community.
As upset as many might be, the truth is, there is no villain in this scenario. Both the Broncos and Simmons made decisions they feel is best for them. Where the team and Simmons go from here is hard to predict because the Broncos have never really been in this situation before.
In the past, the Broncos have always been much more definitive when making the decision to extend players beyond their rookie contract. The case of Simmons is uncharted territory for the Broncos and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
When the franchise tag was placed on Simmons, the expectation was that a long term deal would be worked out by the July 15 deadline. It was a reasonable expectation given in the last decade the Broncos were able to extend every player that they had placed the tag on. Elvis Dumervil, Matt Prater, Ryan Clady, Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller all received long-term deals from Broncos after being tagged.
By placing the franchise tag on Simmons, the Broncos displayed a desire on some level to keep Simmons in Denver. The hesitation to make Simmons one of the highest-paid safeties in the league, however, showed that the Broncos might still be uncertain as to what they have in Simmons. They know he’s one of the top safeties in the NFL, but they may still be unsure that he is one the best.
Dumervil, Prater, Clady, Thomas and Miller were firmly established as top five players at their respective positions when they became free agents. Those players had multiple years of elite play to make the case that they should be one of the highest-paid players in the NFL. While Simmons has been solid, 2020 was his only elite season. His resume is still strong, but maybe not quite enough to the level of the previous players the Broncos placed under the tag.
Players should be signed for what they can do moving forward not what they’ve already done. Simmons appears to be ready take the next step and become a top three safety in the NFL. His play under Vic Fangio was vastly improved and he’s been a leader on the team.
In addition, the Broncos have made a point to draft players of high character in recent years, so that should translate to free agency, as well. Simmons fits the bill of a player that is ideal for a long-term contract. He’s reliable, has good character and his best days on the field appear to be ahead of him.
The Broncos decision not sign Simmons to an extension likely has to do with the changing circumstances outside of football.
COVID-19 changed the landscape of how football is going to be played in 2020 as well as having financial impact that will last into the 2021 offseason. The extent of that impact is still unknown. I think the Broncos would have been willing to pay Simmons and feel comfortable doing so had the pandemic not hit. However, given the uncertainty, the Broncos were likely much more tentative to commit big money.
Simmons is looking to be one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. He’s emerging as an elite player and he should absolutely maximize his value. Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe both “took a haircut” to stay in Denver when they re-signed in 2015. Both players left a lot of money on the table. Simmons, wisely, is not going to go down that road.
The Simmons situation is new to the Broncos. When the team truly wants to keep a player they have either placed the franchise tag on the player or extended them prior to free agency as they did with Wolfe and Harris.
Other times, the Broncos have moved on from players by trading them instead of extending their contract as they did with Clinton Portis and Brandon Marshall (wide receiver) or they let the player leave in free agency as they did with Orlando Franklin, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson.
In all of the above scenarios, the Broncos made a definitive decision on whether to retain players or move on from them. By having Simmons play under the franchise tag, the Broncos have delayed their decision. Given the world we’re currently living in, it makes sense that the Broncos are in a situation that they haven’t faced in the last decade.
The Broncos and Simmons aren’t divorced yet. It’s not ideal to some, but both sides are still in good shape. The Broncos still have Simmons on the roster and Simmons will make $11 million while having the opportunity to erase any doubt that he should be one the highest paid safeties in the NFL.
Like most everything in the world right now, the long-term contract between Justin Simmons and the Denver Broncos may have to wait until next year.
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