ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As free agency approaches, the Broncos have made the expected procedural move of designating Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons with their franchise tag.
The decision to apply the tag will prevent Simmons from becoming an unrestricted free agent while giving both sides time to come to an agreement on a long-term deal. From Simmons' standpoint, the move essentially prevents him from being franchised tagged for a third time.
General Manager George Paton has insisted since his hiring in January that extending Simmons was a top priority.
"Designating Justin with the franchise tag is a procedural move that allows us to continue working on a long-term deal," Paton said in a statement Friday. "We are completely focused on making sure Justin remains a big part of the Denver Broncos for many years to come."
The deadline to apply the franchise tag is March 9, while the legal tampering period for free agency is slated to begin March 15.
The Broncos and Simmons are permitted to negotiate a long-term deal through July 15. If a deal is unable to be reached, Simmons would need to sign the franchise tender in order to play in 2021. The team would not be able to continue negotiations on a long-term deal until after the season.
During George Paton's time as a front office executive with the Vikings, Minnesota used the franchise tag just twice. In 2011, the team placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on linebacker Chad Greenway, but the two sides were able to come to a long-term agreement before the July 15 deadline. Last year, the Vikings placed the franchise tag on safety Anthony Harris, and he played the 2020 season on the tag.
In Denver, Simmons played the 2020 season on the one-year franchise tag and recorded a career high five interceptions as he earned his first Pro Bowl nod. Simmons previously notched four picks in 2019 as he garnered second-team All-Pro honors. His 16 career interceptions place him among the most productive safeties in team history through his first five seasons.
The former third-round pick has not missed a snap in three seasons.