Inglewood, Colo. — Of all the changes, firings and hires that have swirled around the Denver Broncos over the past eight years, one of the few constants has been no. 31 The jersey and the man who wears it — Justin Simmons.
The safety was the Broncos’ third-round pick (98th overall) in the 2016 draft, the lone survivor of a draft class that included a quarterback. Paxton Lynch and the punter Riley Dixon, who returns for his second stint with the team. Simmons has seen change, change and more change.
“I just want to win,” said Simmons, who is in his eighth season as the longest-tenured Broncos player.
The Broncos drafted him less than three months after winning Super Bowl 50, yet Simmons never made it to the playoffs — with Sean Payton as his fifth head coach and Vance Joseph as his fifth defensive coordinator.
Despite the turmoil and turnover, he was a Pro Bowl selection, a three-time second-team All-Pro selection, tied for the league lead in tackles last season and he once went three seasons — 3,328 consecutive defensive plays in all — without missing a snap.
“From my perspective as a playcaller, he’s a player that when you look at the defense and you say, that guy is always in the right place, good in his eyes, not stupid — “smart and smart,” Payton said earlier this season. “You always want that on your team.”
He is also a leading voice among the Broncos. So much so that Broncos general manager George Patton said “[he’s] The complete package, an elite player in our defense, a key player and a great leader in our community.”
He’s the consummate teammate and franchise representative, but the storied Broncos haven’t matched the success of football in the decades before Simmons arrived.
“I was in that frame of mind, I just want to win, I want us to find a way to win, that’s my mindset,” he said. “I get up every day wanting to help us win.”
Yet it was a struggle for most of Simmons’ career. Denver is already in a 1-4 hole after Sunday’s 31-21 loss to the New York Jets, with the Kansas City Chiefs on “Thursday Night Football” (8:20 p.m. ET, Prime Video).
coming off In the 2015 Super Bowl season, quarterback Peyton Manning retired weeks before the draft, but Denver’s defensive depth chart was still full of cornerback options. Chris Harris Jr., defensive end DeMarcus Ware, linebacker Von Millercornerback Aqib Talibsafety Darian Stewart and security TJ Ward.
“All these guys, DeMarcus, Vaughn, Stew, Aqib, TJ, I learned how to be a professional, [wide receiver] Brandon Marshall, I learned what it takes,” Simmons said. “I mean I didn’t play much that year, but I learned everything, I saw the best every day, I saw how I want to be. You’re young, you think it’s going to go on, but when [former coach Gary Kubiak] I moved on, that was the first straw, things were tough.”
The Broncos lost four of their last six games of Simmons’ rookie season, including an overtime loss to the Chiefs that missed the playoffs. Kubiak announced his departure shortly after the season due to health reasons.
Since then, Simmons has witnessed turnover in every department, from ownership to coaching to quarterback.
“[Simmons] Here’s the voice of someone who’s been through it,” the cornerback Pat Surtain II said earlier this season. “Everybody here wants to make the plays that get this team back to where we all want it to be. But when he talks, you can feel how much he does.”
Now 106 games into his Broncos career after his five-tackle performance Sunday, Simmons — who is expected to play this week after returning to practice Wednesday — has played more games for the franchise than any other defensive player without a playoff appearance.
Only 34 defensive players have topped 100 games for the Broncos, a storied group that includes Hall of Famers cornerback Champ Bailey and safety Steve Atwater, as well as linebacker Randy Gradisher, cornerback Louis Wright, linebacker Tom Jackson and linebacker Carl Mecklenburg. And yet only one of those defensive players – Broncos Ring of Famer and defensive lineman Paul Smith – played fewer than five playoff games for the team. Smith played in three postseason games in his 11 seasons with Denver, all leading up to the Broncos’ 1977 Super Bowl run.
safety Kareem Jackson Said “Always ready, always working, always pushing to get better. And he wants to get this team back to where we all want it because he’s invested so much.”
The Broncos are Almost every major defensive statistic is at or near the bottom of the category.
“Got to be better,” said a frustrated Simmons after giving up 234 rushing yards Sunday. “It’s going to start with the leadership, me and the supporters lining up.”
It’s a seemingly annual struggle with the situation that has him ‘really focused on where my feet are.’ Simmons wasn’t in uniform for the nightmare 70-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 3, but he felt “responsible” for some defensive breakdowns even as he was sidelined with a hip injury.
And as the Broncos continue to try to recover from that historic loss, Simmons said the challenge for the defense, especially the young players, is to repair the damage without trying to do too much, reach far, make some plays. To set things right.
Another responsibility he said he had to help shoulder.
“That’s the hardest part of the game … especially when you’re struggling,” Simmons said. “You see things and you want things to happen, but at the same time you don’t want to publish your work. And you have to do it.
“Because in the end football is the greatest sport.” When it comes to getting the ball to goal, but in football you can have great individual talent all over the defense, but if seven of 11, eight of 11, nine of 11 do their job the way they’re supposed to, you’re going to have explosive plays all over the place against you.”
That’s partly why in the first half of the Broncos’ Week 4 win over the Chicago Bears, the second game Simmons missed before returning in Week 5, Jackson felt the first half was the right time to call a group of all his defensive teammates. , after the second Bears’ touchdown, and delivered a fiery football sermon.
“When things aren’t going well, you have to continue the process, put in the details,” Jackson said. Jackson said. …You don’t shut it down because things aren’t going well, it’s the other way around, and over the years I think one of Justin’s strengths is week-to-week, game-to-game, series-to-series, focusing on that. ‘
“Justin, you see the right way,” Surtain said. “Every day, this league is about consistency, how you do things, how you prepare, how you improve, [Justin] It does it every day.”
Simmons signed a four-year, $61 million deal in 2021 that briefly made him the highest-paid safety in the game. If the Broncos can’t fix themselves for a few weeks until October. 31 trade deadline, his name could float around the rumor mill along with other veterans on the team who pre-date the current makeover effort.
He’s been asked plenty if he sees a light at the end of the playoff-barren tunnel, and he remains the voice of reason.
“I consider it a responsibility,” Simmons said. “I said I don’t say it just to say it, to calm it down for articles and things like that, and I don’t do that, but I do consider it a duty. A lot of us who are here, we think it’s our job. “The responsibility is if we don’t play well to lead. I’m always going to do that no matter what happens.”