ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Over the past two seasons, Justin Simmons has earned the individual accolades that help define an NFL career.
The 2020 Pro Bowl selection and 2019 second-team All-Pro honors are hopefully just the beginning of the recognition Simmons receives for his exceptional play on the field, but after signing a new long-term contract to stay in Denver as one of the top players at his position in the league, the five-year veteran is focused less on himself.
Entering his second NFL contract, Simmons is hoping to help marshal the Broncos back to an era of success.
"Having the individual accolades is great," Simmons said Monday, "but this is a team effort, a team game, and the past five years being here, being a part of a couple losing seasons, it's about time to be on the opposite side of that and start winning some football games."
In his NFL career, Simmons' only winning season came in 2016. The then defending Super Bowl champions fell short of the playoffs with a 9-7 record, and in each of the four years that followed, Denver won no more than seven games.
With this new deal, league-wide honors and years of experience, Simmons has become one of the team's most well-respected players, which brings some leadership duties with it.
"For me, this is a big opportunity for me to really cement myself for years and years and years to come," Simmons said. "Like I said, from an individual aspect, of course, but more importantly, from a team goal, right? I want to make sure we're winning — getting back to winning our division, getting back into the playoffs, hosting home playoff games, and those are some of my team goals that I want to get back to."
From his safety position, Simmons has a unique leadership role already, as he helps ensure the secondary is in the correct call and make the correct pre-snap reads and checks. In Head Coach Vic Fangio's defensive system, a player like Simmons is a necessity; in that spot, the safety can be the rising tide that lifts all boats with his physical and mental tools.
"It's one thing to find really good players, which Justin is," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "That's hard enough. But then when you have, you're able to quarterback your secondary and help quarterback your defense, which now you become a multiplier. You're helping other guys become better. Those players are hard to find."
As Simmons prepares for the 2021 season, he's embracing the opportunity to be that kind of "multiplier" on an even bigger scale. While he works on continuing to grow as a safety, he said he'll do the same as a teammate.
"I think individually, obviously there's things I can do to get myself better, but what can I do from a team aspect?" Simmons said. "Defensively, how can I push the guys? Offensively, how can I make sure that we're competing to the highest level every day and make sure that we're doing the things week in and week out so when it comes to it, we're winning those close games instead of just being close? I think that's where we've been the last couple years, and I'm just excited because I know that kind of falls on my shoulders as a leader on this team and on the defense.
"I'm just excited for it. I've never been one to shy away from opportunity, and this is a big one. I'm ready for it."
After the first wave of free agency and with Denver holding the ninth-overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, the Broncos should be in position to rebound from a 5-11 season. In recent days, General Manager George Paton signed two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller and Super Bowl LII champion cornerback Ronald Darby, and he made moves to keep Von Miller and Shelby Harris from hitting free agency.
The decisions are expected to put the Broncos in position to be one of the league's top defensive units.
"We're set up to make something happen," Simmons said. "And, once again, that's going fall on my shoulders as the leader in the secondary, and I'm going to make sure that whatever happens week in and week out, the secondary's going to be good to go. We're going to compete at the highest level."