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Broncos hope to finalize long-term deal with Justin Simmons, will use franchise tag if needed

INDIANAPOLIS — The beginning of free agency is just three weeks away, but at least one of the Broncos' impending free agents will not hit the open market.

If the Broncos are unable to complete a long-term contract with safety Justin Simmons before free agency begins, the team will apply the franchise tag to ensure Simmons remains in Denver, President of Football Operations/GM John Elway said Tuesday.

"I'd like to get a deal done with him before that, but we'll see," Elway said. "Yeah, if we don't get something done, we'll use the tag."

The Broncos would then have several more months to work with Simmons on a long-term deal.

Elway, though, said he hopes the Broncos are able to come to an agreement before free agency begins.

"He's an important piece of what we do, so [we] want to get something done," Elway said.

Elway added the deal needed to be fair to both Simmons and the Broncos.

"We like smart safeties, guys that can tackle and guys that enjoy playing the game from the cerebral side as safeties, and he does that," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "He's a good fit for us. I'm confident we'll have him back somehow, someway."

Several other impending free agents could also be in the Broncos' plans. Elway said Chris Harris Jr., Shelby Harris and Derek Wolfe could all potentially return to Denver.

"They're all part of the process," Elway said. "We're going to look at that. Once we get back from here and start sitting down, we'll really put the plan together and see what we're going to do. We'll be in contact with their agents. Ultimately, it's up to the player and what they want to do. We'll see where they fit in the plan. Obviously, you always want guys back like that, but you never know how it's going to happen."

Fangio is part of the evaluation process, and he said Elway has asked his opinion on which players he hopes will return.

"We're open and hopin' to have them all back, realizing that may not be all possible," Fangio said.

Fangio said the cornerback position is already a priority for the Broncos, but it would become an even bigger one if Harris Jr. were to leave the team.

Elway said the Broncos will also talk with center Connor McGovern about a potential contract.

Other parts of the Broncos' plan are beginning to take shape.

The team will exercise team options on contracts for kicker Brandon McManus and linebacker Todd Davis and decline Ron Leary's option. Denver's decision will end Leary's three-year stint with the Broncos.

Other areas, like the Broncos' backup quarterback role, are less certain.

Elway said he preferred a veteran backup because of "the youth we have at the position now," but the determination would be made based on the available crop.

He did not rule out the possibility that Joe Flacco could fill that role for the Broncos.

"I don't know yet," Elway said. "We're still … kind of working through that, so we don't know exactly with Joe yet. That's always a possibility, but we'll get that figured out before [the start of] the league year."

Fangio said Flacco has yet to be medically cleared.

Denver also must soon make a decision on whether to exercise tackle Garett Bolles' fifth-year option, but Elway said the team has not yet decided on a direction in which to proceed.

"We'll wait until after the draft, see where we are," Elway said. "Once we get all the information — once really we get loaded up to 90 [players] and go through the draft and see where we are — then we'll make that decision on Garett."

The Broncos must make a decision on Bolles' option before May 3. If they exercise the option, Bolles would remain under contract with the Broncos through 2021.

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