DENVER — To the possible chagrin of the Broncos’ Justin Simmons, much has changed since the Chicago Bears made Eddie Jackson the NFL’s highest-paid safety.
It was way back on January 3 that Jackson received a four-year contract extension with an average salary of $14.6 million per year. Does anybody else remember January 3?
Life was drastically altered 2 ½ months later as the coronavirus pandemic shut down the world.
Negotiating a contract extension in early January was fortuitous for Jackson; bad timing for the Bears.
Prior to the pandemic that could potentially cost the NFL millions if not billions in revenue this year, Simmons figured to have a chance at surpassing Jackson’s contract. Why? Because Jackson had a year left on his rookie contract, while Simmons had the leverage of free agency.
The Broncos took back a considerable portion of Simmons’ leverage by slapping him with an $11.441 million franchise tag.
Broncos general manager John Elway said prior to the NFL Draft in late-April that the team and Simmons’ agent had exchanged proposals. What he didn’t say is the two sides weren’t close enough to get a deal done well in advance of a July 15 deadline.
If there’s no multiyear contract agreement by next Wednesday, Simmons would have to play the season on his $11.441 million salary. Of the 15 players who received the franchise tag in March, Simmons is one of only five who didn’t sign his tender. Why? Because $11.441 million is too far below the average salary he hopes to receive from a new deal.
Entering the final week of negotiations, it would be understandable if Simmons asked for the richest contract among safeties. He is a three-year starter coming off an exemplary season in which he lead the Broncos with four interceptions and finished second with 93 tackles. He was also the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year for his community work.
An Elway third-round draft pick in 2016, Simmons has become everything a franchise could want in a core player.
But business being business, it’s also understandable if Elway pauses at having Simmons re-set the safety market. Jackson is a far more decorated safety than Simmons. Jackson has two Pro Bowl appearances and one All Pro selection in just three seasons. Simmons in four seasons has zero Pro Bowls and one second-team All Pro honor.
A potential dip in the 2021 salary cap brought on by a potential reduction in league revenues because of the virus pandemic could also work against Simmons becoming the league’s highest-paid safety.
A contract worth $13 million a year would make Simmons the sixth-highest paid at his position. A contract worth $14 million per would tie him for third with Tyrann Mathieu and Landon Collins among safeties. A contract worth $14.2 million per year would move Simmons past Kevin Byard as the second highest-paid safety and behind only Jackson's $14.6 million.
The four previous Broncos who received the franchise tag in the Elway era – Matt Prater, Ryan Clady, Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller – all reached multiyear contract agreements in the days or hours prior to their mid-July deadlines.
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