New Denver Broncos general manager George Paton will have to make some hard, unpopular decisions at some point in time, there is no doubt.
One of those decisions, however, will not be letting Justin Simmons walk in free agency.
At least not if Paton has anything to say about it.
Paton was on the radio with 104.3 The Fan in Denver and was asked about Simmons when he gave this quote, which is about as transparent as you will see from an NFL general manager.
The sentiment of not letting good young players go is something that could feel kind of new to Denver Broncos fans. John Elway has historically drawn a proverbial line in the sand with his own players, leading to the departures of many young guys who developed well in the Broncos’ system.
There are big names like Orlando Franklin, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Julius Thomas, Bradley Roby, and even Brock Osweiler. There are others whose departures have not been as significantly felt like offensive linemen Matt Paradis and Connor McGovern.
Elway was never afraid to let young players walk if their price tag was too high for his liking, and the overwhelming sense of dread surrounding a potential Justin Simmons departure has been a black cloud over Broncos Country all year.
Simmons has stated publicly his desire to get a deal done and remain in Denver. The price obviously has to be right, and Simmons wants to be paid according to his tremendous production, and his situation is one the Broncos would be wise to be forward-thinking with.
It sets a horrendous precedent if a player like Simmons does not receive a long-term contract extension and also achieve the status of being one of the highest-paid players in the league at his position.
With some players, you can nit-pick on production over the life of a rookie contract. With others, you can point to injuries or lack of availability as a reason not to pay the big bucks.
The next snap Simmons misses would be his first since 2017. He has literally played every defensive snap from week one of the 2018 season to week 17 of the 2020 season, and his productivity has reflected it.
Simmons has nine interceptions and 24 pass breakups in two seasons with Vic Fangio as the head coach. He has 385 career tackles and 11 career tackles for loss as a free safety who can use his burst and athleticism to attack the line of scrimmage when called upon to do so.
Simmons was named a second-team All-Pro selection in 2019 and was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2020. He has been the Broncos’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee two years in a row and just turned 27 years old last November.
This is the type of player you want to shape your roster around, not necessarily because of positional value but because he has done literally everything right as a professional football player.
If the Broncos were to let Simmons walk, that says to other guys coming through the building that your value to the team will not necessarily be determined by your production, leadership, availability, or overall integrity as a human being. By no means should Denver simply hand Simmons a blank check, but he has earned the right to be considered one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL today, and it would be a shame to see another franchise reward him with that distinction.
George Paton said in his introductory press conference that he wants to draft, develop, and get players to second contracts with the team. He wasn’t specifically referring to Simmons, but he might as well have been. Simmons is a model of exactly the way George Paton wants to build the Broncos position-by-position, even if he wasn’t his draft choice.