ENGLEWOOD — A year doesn't seem like a long time. Changing leaves and a few calendar flips.
It was last January that Justin Simmons' future with the Broncos became increasingly uncertain. Would he receive a new contract after the hiring of general manager George Paton? Was the shining beacon among a sea of empty draft classes headed out via free agency or a trade?
In the end, Paton identified Simmons as a franchise cornerstone, making him the NFL's highest paid safety with a four-year, $61 million contract with $35 million guaranteed. After correcting some communication issues in the secondary early in the season, Simmons proved his worth, delivering his best season and winning the first team most valuable player award voted by the media and named in honor of Demaryius Thomas.
Teddy Bridgewater landed the Darrent Williams Good Guy award for his cooperation and professionalism in dealing with the media.
For Simmons, his play continues a trend. He's been arguably the Broncos' best player the past three years, garnering All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors during this time.
"I was just taken aback when I saw it. I hope future winners of this (Demaryius Thomas) award know and see how impactful it is because DT meant so much to so many people," said Simmons of his former teammate who passed away last month. "This is as prestigious an award as it gets. To be honored with this, it's unbelievable."
Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell compared Simmons to Hall of Famer Steve Atwater, also a Donatell pupil, in his approach and preparation for a game. He left no doubt about Simmons' value to the team.
"Justin is the type of guy, he doesn’t want to talk about Pro Bowls,” Donatell said. “He wants to talk about what he can do to help this team get back to the Super Bowl. All his energy is to that kind of thing. That’s how he works. As far as the deep part of the field — middle safety — his abilities are unmatched, and he has production to verify that. He’s the catalyst of this defense."
Simmons boasts 68 tackles and five interceptions, tying a single-season best set a year ago. He also owns a career-high 1.5 sacks.
"I think he's one of the best safeties in the league. He was snubbed to not make the Pro Bowl. He's steady Eddie. He's the quarterback in the secondary," coach Vic Fangio said. "He does a lot of things that don't show up in the box score that help us. I can't say enough good things about him."
Bridgewater posted a 7-7 record as a starter and showed patience and poise in dealing with a quarterback battle and a roller-coaster season that included two concussions, the last one which sidelined him for the final three games.
"Well, I think he had some very good games for us. He had a very positive effect on us from his leadership capabilities, just his confidence, his everyday demeanor, I think it really helped our offense grow," Fangio said. "I just think Teddy is an NFL starting quarterback that has great intangibles and great qualities that you can't coach."
Bridgewater arrived with a terrific reputation as a teammate and pro. He delivered the best quote of the season during training camp when asked about competing for a starting job.
"You can throw me in the jungle and I'm gonna come out with a fur coat and a headband that I made out of some leaves," Bridgewater said.
Bridgewater was honored with his media recognition, named after the late Darrent Williams. He is the first offensive player to win the award.
"This is a great honor," said Bridgewater, stressing the importance of accountability. "I am happy I was able to convey the message of the team to the fans."
The Broncos will not be full strength this Saturday against the Chiefs on Denver7 at 2:30 p.m. Starting cornerbacks Pat Surtain II (calf) and Ronald Darby (shoulder) have been ruled out. Surtain would have missed a week with this injury, separate of the fact that it's the last game. Nate Hairston and Shelby Harris are also dealing with an illness — not labeled as COVID to date — that has left them questionable. Michael Ojemudia will likely start at one corner. ...
The Broncos remain confident that kicker Brandon McManus and punter Sam Martin will be cleared from COVID-19 protocols and be available on Saturday. ...
Quarterback Drew Lock will make his third straight start. It is an interesting game given the uncertain future facing Fangio and many of the players. “You have to focus on staying in the moment. As far as my future goes, that’s not up to me at this point, but I do know that my future is playing in a game this Sunday, and that’s my No. 1 priority. I have learned a lot from coach Fangio. Anytime you have a defensive head coach, has a defense not like you'd normally see on Sunday, you learn a lot and become a way better player. There's been a lot of benefits to having him as coach."
Lock made it clear he believes he can be an NFL starter.
"I do personally believe that if you give me a starting job and let me prep throughout the week that you’ll have a damn good chance to win the football game," Lock said. ...
Broncos special teams coach Tom McMahon remains accountable for his group's failures, but the results never change. "There’s no excuses. It falls on my shoulders," he said.