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For Simmons, going for the pick instead of the hit has paid off

The Denver Broncos safety celebrated his new contract with his coach and GM on his flanks.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the long line of Broncos safety greats, Justin Simmons is more Goose Gonsoulin than Dennis Smith, more Billy Thompson than Steve Atwater, more Steve Foley than John Lynch.

Simmons is more playmaker than bone crusher.

“If I have the opportunity to separate somebody from the ball or go for the interception, I’m going for the interception,’’ Simmons said Monday in a one-on-one interview with 9NEWS. “That’s just been the type of player I’ve been since I started playing football. I think it’s important to stick to what you know and what you do best. Those are some of the things I do best."

> Video above: Broncos safety Justin Simmons embracing role as leader in social justice movement.

Simmons now has a real good chance to one day have his banner draped inside the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse, his name hung on the Broncos’ stadium Ring of Honor and his plaque positioned in the Ring of Fame Plaza. His first five seasons with the Broncos were so good he just became the NFL’s highest-paid safety through a four-year contract extension that averaged $15.25 million a year.

A press conference was held Monday at the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse to honor his special contract. His wife and daughter were there. So were general manager George Paton and head coach Vic Fangio.

Fangio let it be known that just because a player got paid doesn’t mean he can’t learn.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons. center, is flanked by general manager George Paton, right, and head coach Vic Fangio at a news conference to announce a four-year deal for $61 million to keep Simmons on the team Monday, March 22, 2021, at the team's headquarters in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“I don’t see a glaring weakness, but I think there are things that he can do better,’’ Fangio said. “We’re looking for 20 better plays. You don’t know when they are going to happen. May involve him getting a few more picks and may involve him making a critical tackle over the course of the season.

“We’re not talking about wholesale betterment. Everything is so tight in the NFL. If we can find him 10, 20, or 25 better plays than he’s had so far in his career over the course of the 17 games that we’re playing, that’s what I’m talking about. A couple more picks, a couple more crucial stops in the tackling area and the things that aren’t statistical—a better job of leading the secondary and affecting the whole defense.

“There are some players that are good players that need a caddy out there. He’s a good player and he caddies for others. Those are hard to find.”

At the start of training camp last summer, Simmons put himself in a precarious position. He didn’t accept the Broncos’ multiyear contract offer, apparently because he and his agent thought it was too far below his market value, and decided to play the 2020 season on a one-year, $11.441 million franchise tag.

Not bad. A salary 95 percent if not more Americans will never make in their lifetime. But consider Simmons will make $17 million this year, $32.1 million after two years and $46.5 million after three years. Playing one a one-year contract is a scary proposition for any football player in any year, much less a season that had no fans and consequently a reduced payroll.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos free safety Justin Simmons warms up before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

And yes, Simmons did admit to 9NEWS that when he thought of his wife and daughter, there were times of stress last season.

“That’s always something that sits in the back of your mind,’’ he said. “For multiple reasons: You don’t think it’s (the contract is) going to get done, injuries, whatever the case may be. But just staying hopeful and thankful, honestly, through the whole process.

“I would always tell everyone it’s a good problem to have. Just thankful for the whole thing and for the Broncos organization from the top down for believing in me and trusting in me. For my coaches for helping me through the season to help compartmentalize things dealing with contracts but also really focused on the team and trying to find ways to get better. I’m just thankful for the whole process. It was definitely one I’ll remember and cherish and always remember for the life lessons.’’

Sometimes there’s debate about whether a team should pay a player. In Simmons’ case, there was universal acceptance among the fan base he should get his money. One reason is fans who work hard every day appreciate that while there is finesse to Simmons’ game, there’s also grit. He not only shows up every game – 48 in a row over the last three seasons – but every single snap – 3,221 in succession. And if not for a fluky celebratory body bump that left him with a twisted ankle, his Blue Collar run would have been at 74 consecutive games with another 1,000 or so more snaps tacked on.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos free safety Justin Simmons (31) against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

The snap streak is important to him and a big contract won’t change that.

“Since I got in here, the vets my rookie season were telling me the best ability is availability,’’ Simmons said. “Learning how important it is to invest in your body. Missing a couple games, not being out there with your team, I’ve experienced that and it really stinks. Especially when you think you can contribute to the team’s success when you’re out there.’’

Even if he’s the one doing the grinding, he says it’s a shared streak.

“It’s also a testament to the staff that surrounds me,’’ he said. “Chiropractic, massage, the Broncos’ training room. Coach (Loren) Landow and his strength and conditioning staff, having them at my disposal has been beneficial to me and I’m just really looking forward to continuing that and be available for my teammates.”

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