John Elway won’t let Justin Simmons get away, right?

Justin Simmons on the sideline. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.
Justin Simmons on the sideline. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.

Wanna get away?

Considering Justin Simmons, likely the best current Broncos defender, wasn’t re-signed to a long-term deal, Denver GM John Elway may be wishing he could jump on a Southwest flight to, anywhere.

Or, was Elway just playing it safe considering the state of the NFL during the pandemic? The NFL is pretending everything is normal and the season will continue as scheduled, but the reality is, no one knows for sure what the short-term future of the league is.

Here are the highlights of the Simmons saga: He was given the franchise tag during the offseason, the Broncos had until Wednesday to re-sign him to a long-term deal, that didn’t happen so now he’s signed for only 2020.

Since Wednesday, Simmons has spoken out on television and on social media about the Broncos. He praised young quarterback Drew Lock, but also said if the Broncos wanted to get a long-term deal done, they would have. Then, when Mike Klis said Simmons blamed the Broncos, the star asked him not to create a divide between the two parties.

A divide is exactly what the Broncos must want to hope to avoid, and a similar one nearly was created with Von Miller back in 2016. Remember, Miller said there was no chance of him playing on a franchise tag that year, after winning Super Bowl MVP and leading the Broncos to their third Vince Lombardi Trophy. Then, in the 11th hour, Elway and Co. were able to ink Miller to a massive six-year, $114.5 million deal.

In fact, since the beginning of Elway’s tenure in the front office (2011), Denver has franchise tagged five total players, the first four were re-signed to long-term deals before the deadline. The fifth, Simmons, was not.

Interestingly, three of the previous four deals ended up to be mistakes, with Miller being the lone star to continue his stellar play after being paid. Matt Prater was traded away the next year after, Ryan Clady missed almost the entire next season after his deal and Demaryius Thomas underperformed following his big payday.

It’s somewhat impossible to know exactly how Simmons would have played in 2020 with a big deal, but there’s no reason to believe he’d be anything but stellar.

The superstar blossomed before our eyes in 2019 as basically the best safety in the NFL. He picked off four passes to lead the Broncos, totaled 15 passes defensed and 93 combined tackles. And according to Pro Football Focus, he was the second-highest graded safety at a 90.8 (out of a possible 100) while earning second-team All-Pro by the AP.

Simply, he’s improved every year and is a top-5 player at his position according to any metric.

The Broncos and John Elway cannot allow Simmons to get away, and now that he’s playing on the tag this year, the smart, young safety says it will be a second straight contract year. That’s a somewhat tough spot for Simmons to be in, knowing he should have earned a massive deal with his great play in 2019.

But, again, the 2020 NFL season may be postponed or canceled all together, even if the league is proceeding full steam ahead. While most football fans hoped the COVID-19 pandemic would be conquered by the time football starts in August, it’s clearly continuing to worsen unabated due to a lack of leadership at the highest of levels of government.

No one knows for sure how long this will last, and while re-signing Simmons to a four or five-year deal would have been ideal, keeping him on the tag for now isn’t a bad second choice.

And, for the next year, the Broncos are the only team who can negotiate with Simmons. Simply, in all likelihood, Simmons will continue to lead Denver’s defense into their new era under Vic Fangio for a long time.

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