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Ask Aric: Which upcoming free agents should the Broncos focus on re-signing?  

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — We've made it to July.

After a truly unusual offseason, we've reached the month when training camps around the league are scheduled to begin. Many of the details remain up in the air, as we've seen media reports in recent days about the number of preseason games that teams will play, the number of players who will report to camp and how media members themselves may gain access to practice.

For now, though, we'll focus on what we know: We've reached a point on the calendar where it's encouraged to count days until the season opener, debate the best training camp battles and — of course — figure out a way for the Broncos to return to the postseason.

With that in mind, I've taken a stab at several of your questions from this week. If you have one for the next edition of "Ask Aric," you can click here or tweet at me @AricDiLalla

I watched your video about what numbers might be retired in the future. What about 27 for Steve Atwater???? What do you think? - Dan S.

Steve Atwater was (finally) elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February, but the Hall recently announced the enshrinement will be delayed until 2021. That doesn't take away from Atwater's accomplishment, which was well-deserved. After eight Pro Bowl selections and an All-Decade team nod, Atwater earned the gold jacket he should've slid on a long time ago. That alone puts him in the conversation to have his jersey retired. Of the Broncos' three retired numbers, two of them are for Hall of Famers John Elway (No. 7) and Floyd Little (No. 44). No. 18 is retired for Frank Tripucka, though likely 2021 first-ballot Hall of Famer Peyton Manning is featured on the signage at Empower Field at Mile High. If the Broncos choose to reserve jersey retirements at this point for first-ballot Hall of Famers, then Champ Bailey seems like the clear next candidate. There's another easy argument to retire No. 24: Just one player has worn it (albeit briefly) since Bailey. For comparison's sake, more than half a dozen players have worn No. 27 since Atwater left the field. But if the Broncos are going to consider retiring No. 30 for Terrell Davis or No. 84 for Shannon Sharpe — again this is all purely speculative — then Atwater belongs in that conversation. He is every bit of the player that they were and was a key piece of Denver's first two world championship teams. If No. 27 were ever retired, perhaps there's a way to honor the late Darrent Williams, as well. The young cornerback wore No. 27 during his all-too-short time in Denver.

Is Steve Atwater still on suspension for his hit on Christian Okoye? — @Razorback_Jack

Should we just make this a Steve Atwater-themed mailbag? I'm game. He certainly deserves it. Luckily for Broncos fans, that play drew widespread acclaim rather than a penalty flag. Instead of a suspension, Atwater gained a highlight-reel clip that has become one of the defining moments of a Hall of Fame career. 

[What's the] status in getting Justin Simmons signed? - Brad B.

As of today — Sunday, July 5 — the Broncos have 10 more days to work out a long-term deal with their starting free safety. If they cannot come to an agreement by 2 p.m. MT on July 15, Simmons would have to play out the 2020 season on the franchise tag and wouldn't be able to work on a long-term extension with the Broncos until after next year. (One note: In the absence of a long-term deal, Simmons must sign the franchise tag at some point in order to participate). During the 2021 offseason, the Broncos could work out a deal with Simmons, place the franchise tag on him again or let him test free agency. In regards to this year, the Broncos and Simmons' representation have exchanged offers — as President of Football Operations/'General Manager John Elway shared in April — but neither side has addressed the negotiations in recent weeks. "We're hopeful to get something done with Justin," said Elway on April 25.

I know we are in contract talks with Justin Simmons, this year's franchise tag [recipient], but what is the situation with other star players? Particularly in regards to Von Miller, is it likely they get an extension done before he hits free agency in 2022? — Tyler H.

We still have an entire season to play before we get to next year's free agents, Tyler! Still, I see your point. A quick look at Spotrac shows the Broncos have some big decisions to make next offseason. The Broncos will have team options on Miller and Jackson, but both players would be unrestricted free agents after the 2022 season. Miller will be 33 in 2022 while Jackson will be 34. If Jackson plays as well this year as he did in 2019, it would be hard not to pick up that option. Miller, meanwhile, seems to me like he could be a candidate for an extension if he has a bounce-back season. Bruce Smith was productive for nearly two decades. Besides, wouldn't everyone like to see Miller finish his career in Denver? At 33, he'd likely be a mentor more than an every-down player. If he's open to that role, though, it makes sense to keep him here. Other players to monitor ahead of the 2021 offseason: Todd Davis, Brandon McManus, Mike Purcell, Shelby Harris, Jeff Heuerman, Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson are all slated to be unrestricted free agents in 2021. Phillip Lindsay and Alexander Johnson would become big-name restricted free agents. We obviously have to see how the competition between Lindsay and Melvin Gordon III plays out, but I've already seen enough from Johnson. He should anchor the center of Denver's defense for the next five-plus years. One final note: The Broncos must also decide next offseason whether to exercise Bradley Chubb's fifth-year option, and they could also begin to work on extensions for any players from that 2018 draft class (e.g. Courtland Sutton). If Chubb performs anything like he did in 2018, the fifth-year option seems like a no-brainer. Both he and Sutton seem like players who should be Broncos for a long time.

Does it look like Von Miller has lost a step, or are fans just looking at edge rushers with too narrow of a focus? - Caleb S.

I wanted to also answer this question about Miller, because while I picked Bradley Chubb to lead the team in sacks in a recent mailbag, I think Miller is poised for a bounce-back season. With Chubb and Jurrell Casey up front and what should be an improved secondary, I firmly expect Miller to return to double-digit sack numbers. That would give him eight seasons with at least 10 sacks, and it would keep him on pace to someday finish in the top five on the league's all-time sacks list. That consistency — which only dipped last season as he battled a knee injury and didn't have Chubb to draw attention from opposing offenses — is proof in itself that he still has the talent that once earned him Super Bowl 50 MVP award. Just two seasons ago, Miller dominated in a season-opening win over the Seahawks and a "Thursday Night Football" victory over the Cardinals. He didn't have a game last season that matched his three sacks of Russell Wilson or two forced fumbles vs. Josh Rosen, but I'm nearly certain he'll have another dominant game now that Chubb is back and Casey is in town. Will he do that on a weekly basis? Hard to say. Miller, though, has always said that sacks come in bunches. I'd be willing to bet a few of those hot streaks are still to come. 

What, if any, plans do the Broncos have for Riddick? Is he still affiliated with the team? - Bill M.

 Thanks for the question, Bill. The Broncos signed Theo Riddick to a one-year deal during training camp last year in hopes he could add to the offense with his pass-catching ability. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury against Seattle in his first preseason action. The Broncos placed him on injured reserve after the start of the season — which meant he was eligible to return — but Denver chose to activate Drew Lock and Tim Patrick. The Broncos did not re-sign Riddick after the season ended, and he has yet to join another team.

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