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Kareem Jackson's willingness to play safety could help extend career

He is one of three top 10 cornerbacks GM Elway has assembled for coach Vic Fangio.
Credit: AP Photo/Eric Gay
Kareem Jackson celebrates a tackle during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If the Broncos want Kareem Jackson to make the immediate move from cornerback to safety given the surprise $7 million a year addition of Bryce Callahan, Jackson is willing.

The switch perhaps wasn’t going to happen this soon after Jackson agreed to his $11 million-a-year deal Monday with the Broncos. But even before Callahan was brought in Friday, Jackson already understood a switch to safety had the potential to extend his career.

And career longevity becomes a heightened consideration when you’re about to turn 31.

“It’ll definitely work in my favor being able to move to safety after a year or so,’’ Jackson said in an interview with 9NEWS on Friday morning. “And for me, a lot of time depending on how we game plan I would play different positions. That’s something coach Vic (Fangio) wants to do here in terms of game planning and if they want to shuffle me around, I’m definitely willing to do that.’’

A couple hours after Jackson’s interview with 9NEWS, the Broncos added Callahan with a three-year, $21 million deal. Callahan had been the Bears’ No. 3 cornerback behind Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara. However, Fangio, who was then the Bears defensive coordinator, often used his nickel package, and therefore put in Callahan, for more than 80 percent of the defensive plays last season.

Fangio is the Broncos’ head coach now. If Callahan stays as a No. 3 corner, his $7 million a year average will make him the league’s highest-paid cornerback, passing the previous high average of $6.75 million by Miami’s Bobby McCain. (We’re calling the Colts’ Pierre Desir, who received a $7.5 million a year deal last week, a No. 2 corner).

Otherwise, Callahan becomes the No. 31 highest paid cornerback overall.

In Fangio’s 3-4 base defense, the Broncos could use Chris Harris Jr. and Callahan at cornerback and Justin Simmons and Jackson at safety. In Fangio’s nickel or dime packages, Harris, Jackson and Callahan may all play corner, while Simmons and Will Parks and/or Jamal Carter play safety.

Check this out: Broncos general manager John Elway has assembled three of the top 10-rated cornerbacks from 2018, as graded by Pro Football Focus (minimum eight games). Harris was No. 5, Jackson was No. 6 and Callahan was No. 10.

Thanks to Jackson, Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell can use any personnel they want in coverage. Jackson started out playing safety for the Houston Texans last year. Injuries pushed him back to corner, but in today’s football, there’s not much difference between slot corner and dime linebacker.

Not having a set position may be one reason why Jackson was snubbed from the Pro Bowl last season. But it helped him get paid once he reached free agency.

It wasn’t just money that drew him to Denver. It was the fit.

“Just in terms of what they would ask me to do in terms of playing in the secondary whether it was going to be corner or whether it was going to be safety,’’ he said. “I felt the system was going to fit me and use my strengths. And that’s being forceful out there on the field and covering and playing in multiple spots.’’

As for Jackson turning 31 next month, he just had his two best seasons at 29 and 30, when he posted his two-best tackle totals of 73 and 87.

With Tom Brady playing so well the past two years at 40 and 41, NFL scouts may be evaluating the 30-and-older pool with a slightly-less critical eye.

“I think so,’’ said Jackson, who has two young daughters with wife Amber. “You’ve still got a ton of guys who can still play in their 30s. You’ve got guys who are really taking care of their bodies, paying attention to everything that they’re doing.

“Those are some of the things I try to do in the offseason. For me, the older you get the harder you have to work.’’

Jackson used to take a full month to rest after the season. In recent years, he’s only been taking two weeks off.

“One of my best friends, Johnathan Joseph, he’ll be 35 this year and he’s still playing at a high level,’’ Jackson said. “I think it’s more so a mindset for certain guys and taking care of your bodies and health, obviously that plays a huge part of it, but I definitely think they’re starting to look at it a little bit different.’’