DENVER — Justin Simmons evolved into the Broncos' best player last season. The safety earned second-team All-Pro honors, and played every snap for the second consecutive year. His skill set and intellect proved a perfect marriage with coach Vic Fangio's read-and-react blend of coverages.
Simmons also was named the Broncos Walter Payton Man of The Year for his community work, and he created his own foundation this offseason.
Simmons has positioned himself for a new contract extension. In January, Broncos general manager John Elway admitted he would like to secure Simmons on a longterm deal, while acknowledging the franchise tag would be used as a placeholder.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic, making it less likely a deal is struck.
It has changed the dynamics on longterm deals across the league given the uncertainty of revenue streams and the possibility the salary cap decreases moving forward. Simmons has indicated he will play on the franchise tag this season — he had the option to hold out, and he did not participate in voluntary virtual OTAs — but remained hopeful of a new deal. The sides have talked, per sources, with Wednesday's 2 p.m. deadline approaching quickly.
If no deal is struck, and it appears less likely, Simmons must play on the $11.44 million franchise tag this season, and the team would have the option to tag him again after the season.
So what's the holdup?
NFL management has floated the figure that teams could face $70 million each in losses this season as a result of limited or no fans at games. As it stands, the NFLPA is talking with owners, trying to find common ground to start training camp on July 28. The players remain focused on safety protocols — those in the facility are strict, but will it matter if teams practice the same way? — a longer acclimation period to minimize injuries and playing one or zero preseason games.
The owners want two preseason games — one home, one away — for revenue. And there is concern about the salary cap. Will the sides agree to take a huge hit in one year — reducing the salary cap by $40 or $50 million next season, for instance? — or spread it out over multiple seasons?
Tuesday, the Chiefs agreed with defensive tackle Chris Jones on a a four-year, $85 million deal with $60 million guaranteed and a $37 million signing bonus, per ESPN. Will he be the only franchise tag player to land a deal?
The expectation by players and agents alike is that there would be significant revenue increases from new TV deals. Those appear more uncertain, creating wrinkles in contract talks.
Simmons, 26, can look at the Eddie Jackson contract as a potential framework. In the first week of January, the Bears signed the safety to a four-year, $58.4 million contact with $22 million guaranteed upon signing.
Todd France represents Simmons, and his former Creative Arts Agency colleague Rich Hurtado now works as the Broncos vice president of football administration. Hurtado knows Simmons' value as well as anyone as he previously talked with the Broncos about it before joining the team. The risk of not getting a deal done with Simmons is that the price will go up if he delivers another terrific season.
Elway is the lead negotiator in these types of talks. And the previous four players he placed the franchise tag on agreed to longterm deals: Matt Prater (2012), Ryan Clady (2013), Demaryius Thomas (2015) and Von Miller (2016).
It provides hope, but this offseason and season are unlike any in history, making finding common ground more challenging.