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Wait til next year: Justin Simmons declines Broncos long-term offer; will play 2020 on one-year, $11.4 million salary

Financial impact of COVID-19 was a factor in Simmons becoming first of 5 franchise-tagged players during Elway era to not reach a multiyear deal.
Credit: AP
Denver Broncos free safety Justin Simmons (31) reacts against the Buffalo Bills during the second quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Look at it this way, Justin Simmons. You just got yourself a 561 percent raise.

How many American workers can say that during this coronavirus pandemic?

The deadline for NFL franchise-tagged players negotiating a multiyear deal came and went at 2 p.m. Wednesday with Simmons and the Denver Broncos unable to reach accord.

Per sources, the Broncos believed they made a competitive offer that would have made Simmons one of the top 5 or 6 highest-paid safeties in the league.

But Simmons believed he was worth more and is willing to bet on himself that he can get the type of contract he feels he’s worth after this season when the world hopes the COVID-19 is no longer a factor on the world’s economy.

Simmons will now play the 2020 season on his $11.441 million salary he was tendered as a safety under the franchise tag.

While that’s still a considerable bump from the $2.04 million Simmons received last year, he becomes the first of five Broncos players who received the franchise tag during the John Elway era to not wind up with a multiyear deal at the deadline.

The previous four franchise tagged players – kicker Matt Prater, left tackle Ryan Clady, receiver Demaryius Thomas and edge-rushing outside linebacker Von Miller -- all got multiyear deals that put them anywhere from No. 1 to No. 5-paid at their position.

A potential deal with Simmons appeared likely as recently as April. The Broncos jumped out early to try and negotiate with Simmons, who was coming off his best season. But after an initial exchange of proposals, talks stalled and concerns over the financial impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the NFL economy also made it difficult to structure long-term deals past the first season.

Only two of the 14 players who were tendered the franchise tag this offseason – Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones and Titans’ running back Derrick Henry – received a multiyear deal prior to the deadline. The other 12 will play this season on their one-year tender.

Credit new Broncos’ salary cap director Rich Hurtado for staying professional during negotiations. Hurtado had worked several years with France on the player-rep side before crossing to the other side of the bargaining table with the Broncos.

Simmons, meanwhile, will play 2020 – providing the season is played in light of COVID-19 health concerns – with plans of producing another quality season in hopes of getting a multiyear deal next year.

Drafted in the third round out of Boston College in 2016, Simmons developed into an every-down Iron Man for the Broncos, playing every defensive snap of the first 13 games in 2017, then every defensive snap during the past 32 games over the 2018-19 seasons.

His four interceptions and 93 tackles last year garnered a second-team All Pro selection, although Simmons has yet to be named to a Pro Bowl team.

France and Hurtado talked Monday and agreed that while there would be no long-term deal this season, the plan is for Simmons to have another great season in 2020 and revisit negotiations after the season.

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