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Justin Simmons will officially be a Bronco in 2020.
On Friday, the Broncos placed the franchise tag on their young safety, keeping him in Denver for at least one more season.
The move is not a surprise as John Elway made it clear for months he wasn’t letting Simmons leave Denver. What this does mean is the Broncos were not able to get a long-term deal done with Simmons before Mar. 16, the deadline for teams to use the franchise tag. However, the franchise tag, for now, doesn’t limit the two sides in negotiating a long-term deal.
“We remain focused on reaching a long-term contact agreement with Justin. And he’s a big priority for us,” Elway told the Broncos team website on Friday. “This is a placeholder in that process and our goal is the same — to make sure that Justin is a Bronco for a long time.”
While some players are unhappy, or even refuse, to play under the franchise tag, Simmons has made it known he would play under the tag. One reason why is it’ll be a massive pay raise for the former third-round pick.
The franchise tag will cost Denver roughly $11.5 million for 2020, making Simmons the sixth-highest paid safety in the league in terms of cap hit. Through his first four seasons in the league, Simmons made a total of $4.7 million.
The franchise tag, however, could be a bargain for the Broncos, at least compared to what the Second-Team All-Pro could get in a long-term deal.
Eddie Jackson and the Bears set a new bar for the safety market earlier this offseason with a four-year, $58.4 million extension—an average of $14.6 million per year. Tennessee’s Kevin Byard, Kansas City’s Tyrann Mathieu and Washington’s Landon Collins all top $14 million per year as well.
Coming off the best year of his young career, Simmons will likely, and understandably, be seeking a contract similar to those other top-paid safeties.
Additionally, Spotrac’s market value for the four-year safety is $14.4 million per year, projecting a contract of five years, $72.2 million. That would make him the league’s second-highest-paid safety.
Elway and Simmons will have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal. If no deal is reached by that deadline, Simmons will play on the franchise tag in 2020. Next year, Simmons could be franchise tagged again—although at a significantly steeper price—or he could sign a long-term deal with the Broncos in the offseason or hit free agency.
Every single time Elway has used the franchise tag on a player in his tenure, he’s struck a long-term deal with them before the summer deadline.
Regardless of how Simmons’ contract plays out, Elway will be making a massive investment in the secondary. Not only will Simmons likely cost the Broncos at least $11.5 million in 2020, but Kareem Jackson will also carry a $14 million cap hit, newly acquired cornerback A.J. Bouye has a $13.4 million cap hit and Bryce Callahan will cost Denver $7.8 million toward the cap.
Those four players alone in the secondary will cost the Broncos roughly $50 million in 2020—nearly 25 percent of the salary cap. And that’s before any additional moves in free agency.
On Friday, John Elway officially tied down his 2016 third-round pick for one more year. Now Elway has four months to tie him down for the long-term.