ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When 34-year-old safety Kareem Jackson looked around the free agency landscape earlier this year, it was the arrival of another veteran in Denver that piqued his interest in a return to the Broncos.
The trade for quarterback Russell Wilson, 33, was “huge, just huge’’ in Jackson’s decision.
“You’re talking about having an elite guy under center,’’ Jackson said. “That’s what a lot of organizations hope to have.
“You’re talking about being able to put up points, [and] in this league, it’s everything. For an opposing defense, it could be a nightmare. In this division that’s full of quarterbacks, and to actually have one -- it’s a make or break.’’
In these pass-happy times, when defenses routinely use their “sub’’ packages, like the nickel (five defensive backs) and the dime (six defensive backs), defensive coordinators consider smart, versatile and physical safeties a key part of the equation.
Jackson and Justin Simmons, a Pro Bowl selection in 2020, tick all the boxes. Simmons has 21 career interceptions while Jackson has 20. Quality safety play will be key in the AFC West, where the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, Raiders’ Derek Carr and Chargers’ Justin Herbert reside.
Jackson has said he and Simmons are to a point "where we see things through the same set of eyes, that's just how it feels.'''
“There is so much communication now, especially in this defense, and we really rely on that position and the inside linebackers to drive the bus on the communication,’’ Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said. “All the conversations have been about how integral of a role they play, and how this defense is really going to go as they go. In order for us to do more, they have to do more because they have to spit it out, they have to communicate and make sure everyone is on the same page.’’
When the Broncos open the season on Monday Night Football in Seattle (8:15 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN+), virtually all of the attention will center around Wilson’s return to the city where he spent his first 10 years, which included two Super Bowls and one championship.
And Wilson’s ability to bring that level of play to the Broncos, especially in the wake of a five-year, $242.6 million contract extension last week that runs through the 2028 season, will be a foundation of what happens in years ahead.
But in the near term, the Broncos’ defense has to show it has an answer for a list of elite quarterbacks. Players like Jackson, Simmons, Randy Gregory and Bradley Chubb all need to have memorable seasons.
“It’s about being consistent,’’ Jackson said. “We can’t have any roller-coaster days, or one day we come out and we get the ball pretty good, and the next day we’re giving up things. I think if [we’re consistent], we have the talent … but I’ve said talent has to go with work, talent and not enough work isn’t going to win. So if I can give these guys one message that’s it. And I’m going to give that message every chance I get.’’
Former Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has long said every successful defense he’s had along the way has had “a been-around guy’’ on it. Phillips’ 2015 defense in Denver, which finished as one of the best of the Super Bowl era, had a 33-year-old DeMarcus Ware in it.
“K-Jack, that’s my guy,’’ Simmons said. “This will be my fourth year with Kareem. Four years is a long time in this league, especially with the guy right next to you. He’s got that edge, that spice, so smart, still physical, and I was so glad he came back.’’