News & Analysis

Denver Broncos placing franchise tag on star safety Justin Simmons

Dec 22, 2019; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos free safety Justin Simmons (31) in the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos have once again elected to use the franchise tag on Pro-Bowl safety Justin Simmons, a move the team needed to make as both sides continue to negotiate a multi-year contract extension.

Simmons has been the second-most-valuable safety in football over the last two seasons, according to PFF WAR. He has earned an overall PFF grade of 90.5 over that time, first among qualifying players at the position.

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Simmons is an impressive playmaker as a free safety and has picked off nine passes and broken up another 14 over those two seasons. But what makes him one of the more special safeties in the league right now is how active he is against the run and on underneath plays, especially for a player who lines up at free safety as often as he does.

A little under 60% of his snaps come in some kind of free safety alignment. Despite that, he has still notched 56 defensive stops over the last two seasons, the sixth-most among all safeties and by far the most among players who primarily play free safety.

That ability to impact more than just the deep pass makes Simmons the kind of rare player the team should be intently focused on keeping around, particularly if they surround him with better talent at the cornerback position.

Safety is an inherently volatile position in terms of play, given its reactive nature and how dependent it is on offensive execution, so there is always the possibility a team will want to build in some contingency into any contract they are negotiating. There are also times when a team simply wants to see a little more of the player before going on the hook for so much money. However, Simmons has two seasons of very high-quality play and is unlikely to become any cheaper if he backs that up in 2021.

Denver has bought themselves some time to sign Simmons to a long-term contract. Maybe they will run that time into the regular season to make sure that he will still be the same guy, but their ultimate goal should be locking down a 27-year-old playmaker who contributes to all areas of the defense in a positive way.

Safeties as good and versatile as Simmons is aren’t easy to find and are worth paying to keep around.


Justin Simmons ranks sixth on PFF's 2021 Free Agency Rankings. For the complete list, click here.

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