Justin Simmons is undoubtedly a superstar in the making and one of the Denver Broncos’ most important players.
Simmons, who just finished his fourth year in the NFL, is at the end of his rookie deal and will soon be getting paid. Big time.
That’s because during this season he became the best safety in the league per Pro Football Focus and was named Second-Team All-Pro by the AP yesterday, too. Simmons had an argument to be named a First-Team All-Pro; his all-around season was arguably better than Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jamal Adams.
Simmons finished the year with 93 combined tackles, four interceptions, 11 pass breakups and allowed a mere 32.1 passer rating when he was targeted. Notably, the passer rating allowed was second-best in the NFL at the position to only Earl Thomas III.
So, re-signing Simmons certainly must be the No. 1 priority for the Broncos this offseason.
The only thing is, that task may have just became more difficult.
Eddie Jackson of the Chicago Bears just signed a 4-year, $58.4 million extension. That’s massive money for a safety, an average of $14.6 million per year. According to spotrac.com, that makes Jackson the fourth-highest salary cap hit among the position in 2020. And, two spots down the list is Broncos teammate Kareem Jackson ($14 million) who also balled out in 2019.
Jackson is a star, sure. But Simmons out-played him in nearly every statistical category this season (60 tackles, 2 INT, 5 PD) and Jackson is PFF’s 86th-best safety in 2019. Simply, Jackson’s big deal is great news for him, but it’s bad news for the Broncos because Denver’s going to have to pay Simmons even more.
That will mean around $30 million next season will be devoted to only two positions, the safety spots at the back end of Denver’s defense.
The good news is, safeties are incredibly important in today’s game. They’re needed to be deft cover men as well as guys who are willing to stuff running backs at the line. Notably, Simmons and Jackson combined for 52 “stops” according to Pro Football Focus, which are tackles that constitute a failure for the offense (at or behind the line of scrimmage).
The other positive for the Broncos is they will have plenty of money to pay both safeties, and a ton left over to fork out to other free agents.
Going into 2020, the Broncos are set to have $60.4 million dollars of cap space. That will increase to $70.4 million if Denver cuts Joe Flacco and will increase even more if they somehow find a trade suitor for the QB. So, $15 million for Simmons will give the Broncos around $55 million to spread around.
In all, there are 29 free agents for the Broncos and John Elway has to figure out which ones are the most important to keep around.
Simmons has been No. 1 on the list all year long, with Shelby Harris being No. 2. It seems unlikely Denver will be able to re-sign both, and the Broncos’ free agent list includes other notable names like Derek Wolfe, Chris Harris Jr., Connor McGovern, Ron Leary, Will Parks and more.
Stay tuned to see what the Broncos do; we’ll have you covered all off-season long.