John Elway, the Broncos' president of football operations and general manager, said Tuesday at the scouting combine that Denver will use the franchise tag on Simmons if they can't work out a long-term deal.
Simmons, a third-round pick in the 2016 draft who is set to enter his fifth season, is poised to be an unrestricted free agent March 18, when the new league year begins. But Elway made it clear his goal is to lock up Simmons with new multiyear deal.
"We're hoping to get a deal done before that, but if we don't get something done, we'll use the tag,'' Elway said.
Teams can designate a franchise player between Feb. 27 and March 12. The franchise player then receives a one-year deal that is calculated using a five-year period for the average of the highest-paid players at his position.
The projected franchise tag salary for safeties for 2020 under the current collective bargaining agreement is expected to be about $11.6 million. The franchise player tender is guaranteed for the season as soon as the player signs it.
Elway said the day after the Broncos finished at 7-9 -- the team's fourth consecutive playoff miss -- he had told Simmons the team wanted to re-sign him. Simmons played at a Pro Bowl level in his first year in Vic Fangio's system, as he was tied for second on the team with 93 tackles and led the team with four interceptions and as 15 passes defensed.
Re-signing Simmons will likely take elite money. The five highest-paid safeties in the league have contracts that average between $14 million and $14.6 million per season. The Broncos, before they've made any roster moves, are scheduled to have more than $60 million worth of salary-cap space.
Simmons has started 48 games in his career, including 16 starts in each of the past two seasons. Simmons has also played every defensive snap in each of the last two seasons.
Elway expressed confidence Tuesday that a long-term deal could be worked out in the coming weeks.
"You would hope so; the bottom line is it's got to be fair for Justin and it's got to be fair for us,'' Elway said. "Hopefully we can get to that point. ... I think we'll be able, hopefully, to get something done with Justin. He's an important piece of what we do. We want to get something done.''