ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons said Friday he’s willing to bet on himself and play on the franchise player tender in the 2020 season and that if the team had wanted to sign him to a long-term deal, “they would’ve.”
Simmons is the fifth player Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway has used the franchise player tag on since he was hired in 2011. The deadline for a long-term deal passed Wednesday without a contract in place for Simmons, who signed his one-year tender ($11.441 million guaranteed).
Simmons will be under contract for the coming season and would again be scheduled to be a free agent next year.
During an appearance on the NFL Network Friday morning, Simmons said: “If the Broncos wanted to get a deal done, they would’ve. And so the reality is another year on the franchise tag is like a contract year all over again. Year 2 in Vic [Fangio’s] system with all the weapons that we have, I’m more than confident in myself and what I can do. Moving forward, we’ll just have to see. It’s a business decision on both ends. Whatever’s in my best interest and my family’s best interest is always what I’m going to do.”
And just after the appearance, Simmons responded on social media to the idea that he was blaming the team entirely for his lack of a contract, posting on Twitter: “A deal is two-sided. Never single-handedly blamed anyone. Reality is if it was going to happen it would have. I’m thankful for another year to play ball and would appreciate you not trying to divide myself and the team.”
Simmons, who turned 26 last November, played at a Pro Bowl level in his first year in head coach Fangio’s system. He was tied for second on the team with 93 tackles and led the team with four interceptions and 15 passes defensed.
Also one of the team’s most active players in the community, Simmons was the Broncos’ nominee last season for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
During this offseason, Simmons has consistently expressed optimism that the Broncos will end their four-year playoff drought.
“For sure, [quarterback] Drew [Lock] came in and we finished strong, 4-1 in those last five games,” Simmons has said. “Von [Miller], Bradley [Chubb] coming back from his [knee] injury, Kareem [Jackson], Bryce [Callahan] is going to be back. I think the world of our defense, and in Year 2 of the system, I can’t wait.”
Elway has not publicly discussed the negotiations with Simmons in recent weeks to offer an explanation for why no deal was done, but he has consistently said the team intends to keep Simmons “for a long time” and has called Simmons “an important piece of what we do.” It will also take elite money to do it given that the five highest-paid safeties in the league all have contracts that average between $14 million and $14.6 million.
Earlier this offseason, Fangio made it clear what he thinks of Simmons — both on the field and off, with his involvement in the community and his stance on social justice issues — when he said: “Justin is a great person, a great leader and has his head screwed on correctly. He sees the problems and how they need to be solved, He’s doing it peacefully and he’s searching for solutions. It’s easy for everybody to identify the problems — we all know the problems — but we need to search for solutions. I think that Justin is one of those guys that will help us find solutions and lead us out of this mess that we’re in.”
During Elway’s tenure, all four of the previous players under the franchise tag — tackle Ryan Clady, kicker Matt Prater, receiver Demaryius Thomas and Miller — signed long-term deals before the deadline had passed. Miller’s $114.5 million deal was groundbreaking at the time.
Miller is set to enter the fifth year of the six-year deal. And negotiations for that deal were far more publicly testy than the talks with Simmons’ representatives. At one point Miller cropped Elway out of a photo he posted on social media, taken during the team’s trip to the White House in 2016 to honor the Super Bowl 50 win.
The two sides will certainly revisit the topic of a long-term deal next year, given that Elway has repeatedly said he considers Simmons one of the key players in the organization.
On the potential for a long-term deal, Elway said earlier this offseason: “We want him back. You know the options there. … He’s a great football player, but he’s a better man. What he does outside of this building and what’s done in Denver has been tremendous. Just the type of guy he is. These are the type of guys that we want on this football team. Obviously, we have the franchise option there, but we’d like to get something done with Justin for the long term.”
Simmons has started 48 games in his career, including 16 starts in each of the past two seasons. Simmons has also played every defensive snap in each of the past two seasons. He has 11 interceptions, 28 passes defensed and 2 sacks in his career.