First a Pro Bowl appearance and now the franchise tag.
That is the path that safety Justin Simmons took in 2020 and now 2021, as the Broncos are reportedly placing the franchise tag on Simmons of the second consecutive offseason, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Rapoport added that Simmons and the Broncos will continue discussing a long-term deal as well.
The 27-year-old entered the league as a third-round pick for the Broncos in 2016 and was a solid playmaker during his first two years. However, he took a leap in his third season and posted 97 tackles and three interceptions before following with 93 tackles and four interceptions in 2019.
That 2019 effort was good enough for a sparkling grade of 90.7 from Pro Football Focus, but his future in Denver was under the spotlight the following offseason.
The Broncos placed the franchise tag on him in March 2020, but then-general manager John Elway said in a statement: "We remain focused on reaching a long-term contract agreement with Justin, and he's a big priority for us. This is a placeholder in that process and our goal is the same—to make sure that Justin is a Bronco for a long time."
However, the deadline passed in July without a long-term deal, meaning Simmons played the 2020 campaign under the tag.
"If they wanted, they could've gotten it done," he said at the time on NFL Network's Good Morning Football. "Year 2 in Vic's system. I'm more than confident in my ability."
Simmons also addressed reaction to those comments on Twitter:
All he did under the franchise tag is make his first career Pro Bowl with 96 tackles, one fumble recovery and career-best five interceptions.
The Broncos surely hope that production continues following this deal, and there is little reason to think it won't. Simmons is versatile enough to help stop the run while remaining a force over the middle of the field and ballhawk against the pass. He is also in the middle of his prime and played all 16 games in each of the last three seasons.
About the only thing missing from his resume at this point is a playoff appearance, and he will look to change that on the only NFL team he has ever known.