ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As safety Justin Simmons nears the end of his rookie contract, President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway made it clear the Broncos "want him back."
Elway said he told Simmons on Monday that he hoped the fourth-year player would be wearing orange and blue for years to come.
"I talked to Justin and said, 'You know what, we want you back,'" Elway said Monday at his end-of-season press conference. "He's a great football player, but he's a better man. What he does outside of this building and what's done in Denver has been tremendous. Just the type of guy he is. These are the type of guys that we want on this football team. Obviously, we have the franchise [tag] option there, but we'd like to get something done with Justin for the long term."
The Broncos have exclusive negotiating rights with Simmons until the new NFL league year begins in March, at which point he would become an unrestricted free agent.
In his first year in Head Coach Vic Fangio's system, Simmons tallied a career high four interceptions and 15 passes defensed. He also did not miss a snap for the second consecutive season.
"He played great for us," Fangio said Monday. "I think he'll still at the stage of his career where he can still improve more, especially within the inner workings of our defense and mastering some of the things we do even better, which will only come through reps. It won't come through meetings. Really a good football player, a really good person and a really good teammate. He's everything we want in a player."
As he has done in previous weeks, Simmons reiterated his desire on Monday to stay in Denver.
"Any time that's it's been in used, long-term deals have been done," Simmons said of the team potential using the franchise tag. "Either way I've looked at it, it's a blessing either way. In my opinion, if a team wants you, you'll be here. It'll be a blessing either way. I've said it all season long, it's no shocker that I want to stay. I love the defense. It works for me, [and] I think I make it work just as well. I think it's a good relationship. With that being said, it just has to work out. There's no hiding that I want it to work out. I just hope it does. It'll be exciting regardless. Whatever happens, I know it's all on the Lord's will. If it does happen, I'll just further his kingdom, so it'll be good."
PIECES OF THE PIE
Simmons isn't the only big-name player on the Broncos who will become a free agent in March.
Both Derek Wolfe and Chris Harris Jr. are two long-tenured players who will also become free agents, and Elway said the team is still evaluating its options for free agency.
"We'll have to see what options we have and what's available," Elway said of a potential offer to Harris. "We have to go back and look at the money that we have available. We will go through and make a plan before we get to that. We will budget it out and see what our plan is and put that plan together. … We'll do that with all our players. We're going to look at our budget, see how the pie fits, see how everybody fits in the pie and do the best job of using our money in the best ways that we can but also find the players that we hope can get us back to the playoffs and compete for a world championship."
At least a couple pieces of the offseason plan have come into focus, as Elway said the Broncos plan to exercise their team option on Von Miller. Elway said the Broncos will also look to adjust Phillip Lindsay's contract. The undrafted player has one year remaining on his rookie deal.
"Yeah, we'll look at that," Elway said of Lindsay. "Again, we'll get back into when we start planning and budgeting for 2020 and where we are money-wise. Obviously, Phillip has done a tremendous job and being the first college free agent to go over 1,000 yards [in two consecutive years to start his career]. As Vic said last night, there are 32 dumb-dumbs that didn't draft him and I was one of them. Thank God we talked him into coming here."
"I meant to say 31," Fangio cut in with a laugh.
AN UPDATE ON JAMES
Ja'Wuan James enters the 2020 offseason having played just three games in 2019 after suffering an early-season knee injury.
Elway said Monday that while it will be "nice to have him back" in 2020, James must ultimately feel comfortable with his injured knee.
"Ja'Wuan's got to feel good with that," Elway said. "Ultimately it's his — he's got to come back and hopefully that knee tightens up for him to where he gets comfortable with it. That's up to him. Having played the game and knowing that whoever is in that body, they're responsible in how they feel and hopefully he comes back and can be the player that we think he can be. We obviously spent a lot of money on him last year because we think he can be that kind of player."
Elway said whether or not James undergoes surgery will be left up to the fifth-year player.
"He's going to determine that," Elway said. "They're in charge of their bodies. They one thing I don't want do is I don't want to question it. It's ultimately up to Ja'Wuan and I think the trust factor is there. For us, we have to trust the player and what the player says that he can and can't do. No matter what the doctor says, it's still up to the player. Hopefully that knee tightens up for him when he comes back and [he can] be what we think he can be."