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Denver Broncos extend Justin Simmons: 3 more big moves team should make

Jan 3, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos free safety Justin Simmons (31) celebrates his interception in the fourth quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos agreed to a four-year, $61 million contract extension with Justin Simmons on Friday, making him the NFL’s highest-paid safety.

But the team shouldn’t be done making splashy moves this offseason. With free agency still going on and the 2021 NFL Draft coming up, there’s still time for Denver to bolster its chances at contending for the playoffs in 2021.

Simmons’ signing is a great long-term move for the Broncos, but here are three great moves they should make to expedite their path to AFC West contention against the likes of Kansas City, Las Vegas and the Los Angeles Chargers.

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Move up for 1st-round QB in 2021 NFL Draft

2021 NFL mock draft: Denver Broncos move up for QB
Nov 7, 2020; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields (1) throws during the first quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

If the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes, the Chargers have Justin Herbert and the Raiders have Derek Carr, that leaves Denver with easily the fourth-best quarterback in the division in Drew Lock.

Nothing against the young signal-caller, but he has 18 games under his belt as a pro, and hasn’t looked the part of a franchise QB. In the modern NFL, it’s imperative to produce on a rookie contract, and Lock hasn’t done that well enough to date. He certainly doesn’t look capable of eclipsing any of his three starting counterparts in the AFC West.

Thus, here’s a mock trade scenario from a simulation on The Draft Network in which the Broncos trade up with the Philadelphia Eagles to select their new field general of the future:

  • Broncos get: No. 6 overall pick
  • Eagles get: No. 9 overall pick, No. 40 overall pick, 2022 third-round pick

Obviously, this deal hinges on Philadelphia sticking with Jalen Hurts under center, and given that he was a 2020 second-round pick, has barely played thus far, and is on a team in dire need of younger players to rebuild, it makes sense that the Eagles would trade down a bit to collect more assets.

Landing someone like Ohio State’s Justin Fields or North Dakota State standout Trey Lance — who were both still on the board in the simulation — makes a lot of sense for the Broncos. They could plug either of them in as a starter right away and ship Lock out of town, or see if the incumbent can bring out the best in himself with a little heat on him.

It’s all well and good to have a great defense and stars like Simmons, Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Shelby Harris leading the way. Without a potent offense to complement it, though, that won’t matter much. Fields or Lance would inherit an enviable cast of skill players with tailback Melvin Gordon, tight end Noah Fant and a deep receiving corps of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and KJ Hamler.

Read More: Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock reportedly generating trade interest

Sign Golden Tate in free agency

Denver Broncos splash moves: Sign Golden Tate in free agency
Oct 4, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Golden Tate (15) runs the ball against Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Samson Ebukam (50) during the second half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After speaking of that loaded cast of skill players, it’d probably seem as though acquiring a veteran who’s no longer in his prime like Tate would be a counterintuitive move. However, it makes a lot of sense from Denver’s end.

This team is especially young on offense, and needs leaders like Tate who know what it takes to compete at a championship level. Tate shared time with Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur when the latter was the head coach of the New York Giants, and the reality is, Tate can still get it done when called upon.

Whether it’s making defenders miss underneath in the short passing game or tracking the ball downfield, Tate is probably going to find a way stick around the NFL for another couple of years even though he turns 33 in August. There are few better places for him to make a strong impression than Denver, where he’s already familiar with the system.

Plus, Tate can help along the development of rising sophomores in Jeudy and Hamler, giving the Broncos a proven veteran mentor whose skill set is ideal for the team’s West Coast scheme.

Sutton and Patrick are bigger-bodied receivers who can get it done on short-area passes, but aren’t as sudden as someone like Tate. Then there’s Hamler, who’s more of a pure deep threat at this early juncture of his pro career than the technician Tate is.

Related: Top 20 NFL free agents of 2022

Trade a draft pick for Atlanta Falcons star Deion Jones

Nov 29, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (45) reacts as he returns a pass interception for a touchdown against Las Vegas Raiders running back Devontae Booker (23) during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons are trying to retool their roster, but what’s obvious is that even with Jones on the field for every game for the past two seasons, they’ve been a bad defense.

One shudders to think how awful Atlanta could be without him. That said, there’s a new regime in town led by general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith. While Jones is one of the only legitimate building blocks on defense, the Falcons are really in trouble when it comes to the salary cap.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is due to be a cap hit of over $48.6 million next year, and legendary wideout Julio Jones is on the books for a big number with Calvin Ridley hitting the open market in 2022. The offense is in danger of being in peril, and in short, Fontenot and Co. need more draft picks than free-agent acquisitions to make the rebuild work.

The previous front office extended Jones back in 2019, but times are different now. Denver could use a linebacker with Jones’ coverage skills to anchor the heart of Fangio’s defense.

Read More: Atlanta Falcons draft picks: Best 2021 NFL Draft targets, potential draft selections

Maybe offer Atlanta a 2022 second- or third-round pick and maybe kick in another Day 3 choice in exchange for the 26-year-old Pro Bowler, then get a bargain pure run defender like Avery Williamson on the open market to fill out the linebacker corps.

Between the hypothetical draft maneuver to land a new quarterback and this trade for Jones, that doesn’t leave the Broncos with much draft capital for the next two years. However, with Miller’s big cap hit off the books for 2022 and a QB on a rookie contract, they’ll have plenty of money to spend.

The truth is, Fangio may be getting his last chance in 2021, and he and the organization should do all they can to avoid another coaching change.

Signing Simmons was a great step to save cap room now and to lock in a stud player for the future. Now, it’s time to do just that at the quarterback spot. Bringing in some much-needed offensive leadership with Tate and improved production at inside linebacker with Jones would be a big boost in the Mile High City, too.