Steve Atwater was thrilled to see George Paton give Justin Simmons a long-term contract, excited that he brought in Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby to the cornerback room, but when the Broncos Country Tonight hosts noted that Kareem Jackson is also coming back to the secondary, Atwater was fired up.
“K-Jack is back!” the Hall-of-Fame safety belted.
Ryan Edwards noted that Jackson had hit free agency but when the market wasn’t really there, No. 22 worked out a deal for $5 million with the Broncos, a $5 million discount for Denver. Jackson had been scheduled to earn $10 million if Denver had exercised the option for the third year of his contract.
So Edwards asked if that pay cut would affect Jackson’s play on the field, and Atwater didn’t hesitate.
“KJack’s a pro,” Atwater said, noting it’s “not like they’re paying him peanuts. He’s still going to leave it on the field. I know people saying he’s getting up there, he’s going to lose a step. I don’t see it, man. He takes great care of himself. He’s strong. I think he’ll come out and play at a high level.”
Edwards added that a lot of teammates seemed excited to have him back too, and since bringing him back also fills what could have been “a perceived hole” at safety, having Simmons long-term and his pal Jackson on the other side spells good things for the secondary.
“I think everybody wins with this,” Atwater said of the long-term contract, noting that it’s as big of a deal for coaches that their GM rewards outstanding play as it is teammates in the locker room.
“The better players they have, the easier it is to call those defenses,” Atwater said, adding that sending in a bad call with mediocre players can be a disaster, but sending it in with really good players means good things can still happen.
And, of course, it tells other players in the locker room that putting in the effort and producing results does get noticed by the front office.
“That really sent the message to the team - you go out play hard, you leave it all on the field, do what you’re supposed to off the field, and you’re going to have the opportunity to be a Bronco for a long time,” Atwater said. “I couldn’t be happier for the way this turned out.”
And with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb both rushing from the edge - a duo that Atwater predicts will produce 15 sacks each next season - the secondary is “going to eat.”
“With the guys we have - Shelby Harris, Dre’Mont Jones and Mike Purcell, then you’ve Von and Bradley on the edge - man, who can block those guys? They’re going to be a force.”
For Atwater the only real question mark for the Broncos is inside linebacker. The Hall-of-Famer noted Josey Jewell’s improved play last season as well as looking forward to hopefully seeing Justin Strnad on the field.
“But I think inside linebacker could use a little bit of a boost,” he added.