DENVER — Before negotiations even begin, comparable salaries at the NFL safety position suggest a deal between the Broncos and Justin Simmons should be relatively close.
The league’s five highest-paid safeties by the standard measure of annual average value – in order, Budda Baker, Eddie Jackson, Kevin Byard, Landon Collins and Tyrann Mathieu – are separated by a mere $750,000.
1. Baker, $14.75 million
2. Jackson, $14.6 million
3. Byard, $14.1 million
4. Collins/Mathieu, $14 million
So whether the Broncos present Simmons with an offer that would make him the fifth highest-paid safety or the No. 1 safety in terms of dollars and cents, the difference is less than $800,000 a year.
There is one significant complication to this safety compaction: Those top 5 safety salaries came as the league’s salary cap was going up by around $10 million a year, topping out at $198.5 million in 2020. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic that locked up the stadium gates and diminished the league’s revenue. Estimates say teams will operate with a reduced payroll of about $185 million in 2021.
That would leave the Broncos with a smaller pie from which Simmons is to take his slice.
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A ball-hawking safety who was tied for fourth in the league with 5 interceptions last year and who hasn’t missed a snap since his celebratory body bump landed awkwardly near the end of the 2017 season, Simmons was tied for the 7th-paid safety last season with a franchise tag salary of $11.441 million. A second franchise tag in 2021 – teams can start applying the tag Tuesday although tags execution will likely occur closer to the March 9 deadline – would give Simmons a 20 percent bump to $13.729 million in 2021.
Already, that puts him within a successful chest bump of the league’s top 5 safeties.
Add another $500,000 to Simmons’ average annual payout on a multiyear deal and he’d be the No. 3-highest-paid safety. And if Simmons and his agent Todd France insist on a contract that would be the richest among safeties despite a smaller team payroll?
We know John Elway, the Broncos’ general manager of the previous 10 seasons, hated to set new contract standards. New GM George Paton will establish his own philosophies over the course of his first offseason.