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Broncos bring back Kareem Jackson, cut Nick Vannett

Jackson's pay cut in half to $5 million, but he made $23 million in previous two years. Vannett was 11-game starter as blocking tight end last year.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Justin Simmons wanted his partner back.

And when you’re paying Simmons what the Broncos are paying him -- $17 million in 2021 and $46.5 million over the next three seasons -- his wish can have an impact.

Kareem Jackson is back with the Broncos after he and the team agreed on a one-year, $5 million contract Tuesday, sources told 9NEWS. A starter and defensive leader the past two seasons with the Broncos when he made a combined $23 million, Jackson was supposed to finish out his contract with a $10 million salary in 2021.

"Kareem was one of the ultimate teammates," Simmons said in a one-on-one interview with 9NEWS on Monday. "For what he did on the field – and off the field for what he did for our culture in the DB room. There’s so much I learned from him. Working with him was so effortless. We thought pretty much on the same page. When we were out there on the field there were a lot of times where I didn’t have to communicate to him. Like you said nothing’s over yet and hopefully there’s some type of way that’ll be an opportunity we’re reunited, but I just know Kareem is the ultimate pro. He’s like my brother for life and I’m just really thankful for him."

>>Video above: Hometown MVP: Kareem Jackson's foundation provides hope for chronically ill children and breast cancer fighters and survivors

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos strong safety Kareem Jackson (22) in the first second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Denver.

A day later after Simmons’ praise of Jackson, it got worked out. Simmons and Jackson will be together as the Broncos’ starting safety tandem for a third season.

The Broncos tried to renegotiate a restructured deal with Jackson that included a pay cut. But when no agreement was reached, the team declined his $1.5 million option which made him a free agent. With NFL teams having their base salary cap payroll reduced from $198.2 million to $183.5 million because of last revenues from the pandemic, the market was brutal to solid veterans like Jackson, whose near Pro Bowl-caliber performance was offset by the fact he will soon turn 33.

Jackson can look at it this way, though: All told, he will get three years and $28 million from the Broncos, or $9.33 million per year.

The Broncos’ secondary is now complete. Simmons, who is the league’s highest-paid safety, and Jackson take care of the back end while newly signed free agents Ronald Darby ($10 million per year) and Kyle Fuller ($9.5 million) join slot man Bryce Callahan ($7.2 million) at the cornerback positions.

That’s an extremely expensive $48.7 million in 2021 cash to five defensive backs.

Credit: AP Photo/Brian Blanco
Denver Broncos tight end Nick Vannett celebrates after scoring against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C.

Vannett released

In a surprise move made about two hours before bringing back Jackson on Tuesday, the Broncos released veteran tight end Nick Vannett. He was the Broncos’ blocking tight end last year who was scheduled to make $2.678 million this year.

The five-year veteran played in 15 games for the Broncos last season with 11 starts. He had 14 catches for 95 yards with a touchdown. The Broncos other top two tight ends, Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam, are known for their receiving skills and with Jake Butt a free agent, the team will have to pick up another blocking-type tight end to aid in their run game and pass protection.

Credit: AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann
Tanoh Kpassagnon (92) pressures Denver Broncos offensive tackle Elijah Wilkinson (68) during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019.

Wilkinson visits Bears

Offensive lineman Elijah Wilkinson, who played in 45 games the previous four seasons with the Broncos with 26 starts at right guard and right tackle, visited the Chicago Bears on Monday. A source told 9NEWS a one-year deal between the Bears and Wilkinson was imminent.

UPDATE: Wilkinson later confirmed on his Instagram account he did sign with the Bears.

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