DENVER — When George Paton first settled into his new job as Broncos’ general manager a couple months ago, he started calling players on his new roster.
About 20 players in, at least six asked him, “Is Justin Simmons coming back?”
The Broncos reached agreement Friday on a four-year, $61 million deal that made Simmons the league’s highest-paid safety -- $500,000 more per year than Arizona’s Budda Baker, who now falls to second place on the back-end position’s rich list.
The $13.73 million franchise tag salary is no more. Simmons now averages $15.25 million per year. Baker is next at $14.75 million, followed by Eddie Jackson at $14.6 million and Kevin Byard at $14.1 million.
The No. 1 contract does not necessarily mean Simmons is the league’s best safety – that he’s never been a first team All Pro and has just one Pro Bowl berth suggests he’s not.
Still, there are so many other intangibles Simmons possesses that made him Paton’s No. 1 choice to become the highest-paid safety. First, Simmons is a homegrown player, having been an astute third-round draft pick out of Boston College in 2016. Give Matt Russell, the former right-hand man of former GM John Elway, credit for Simmons winding up in Denver. Russell had a late, first-round grade on Simmons when everyone else had him graded as a middle-round player.
When Simmons was still on the board with the No. 98 overall pick in the third round – three picks after Detroit took now Broncos’ right guard Graham Glasgow, Russell took his man.
On the field, Simmons is an interchangeable safety who has superior ballhawk and coverage range against the pass, and is above-average in defending the run. Simmons had five interceptions last season, nine in his past two seasons as his deep centerfield, keep his vision alert style implemented by coach Vic Fangio suits his strength. Paton believes the interchangeable safety is the toughest to find – the upcoming draft is loaded with box safeties.
Smart on the field to the point he serves as the Denver D’s field general, Simmons is also durable, having played every snap through 48 consecutive games the past three seasons.
He is also well-respected and well-liked among his teammates in the locker room. Hence the inquiries Paton received as he introduced himself to the players he inherited. Simmons has also been strong in the community, both through his charitable work and willingness to speak up in support of social reforms.
And so Simmons, whose leap-over-the-line, blocked extra point as a rookie gave the Broncos a shocking win at New Orleans in 2016 and led the NFL to later disallow the athletic maneuver, is a Bronco for at least three more years based on his guarantee.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Sports