DENVER — It’s officially official.
The “No Fly Zone” is no more.
The last man standing was Chris Harris Jr., a future member of the Broncos Ring of Fame. Now that the star cornerback left the Broncos to sign with the Los Angeles Chargers, what’s next for the secondary that brought a Super Bowl 50 trophy to Colorado?
The succession plan in the Broncos’ secondary starts with a whole lot of moving and shaking.
In: A.J. Bouye, Michael Ojemudia, Bryce Callahan.
Out: Harris, Will Parks.
Oh, the moving and shaking isn’t done yet. Even the centerpiece of the secondary has his future up in the air. Veteran safety Justin Simmons and the Broncos both said they had hoped to reach a long-term contact in the offseason. That didn’t happen — a sure sign Simmons sought more than the Broncos were willing to pay — and he will play this season on the franchise tag.
The tag is worth $11.4 million. He’ll be OK.
“It’s unfortunate that it didn’t work out,” president of football operations John Elway said.
The two sides were never close on a long-term goal.
“It just didn’t feel like we were going to get there, so we didn’t get there,” Elway said.
Making Simmons prove he’s worth top-three safety money was a smart move by the Broncos.
The entire secondary must prove its worth. The “No Fly Zone” was No. 1 in the NFL and No. 1 in your hearts. Now, a couple of things must happen for the Broncos to field a strong pass defense:
A) Bouye and Callahan must be as advertised.
In 2020, the Broncos tied up roughly $20 million in the two men expected to be the starting cornerbacks in coach Vic Fangio’s defense. The Broncos acquired Bouye in a trade with the Jaguars. If the former Pro Bowl cover man returns to form, the Broncos got a steal. They gave up only a fourth-round draft pick in exchange for Bouye, who is 29 and last made the Pro Bowl in 2017.
“He solidified the corner position for us,” Elway said. “I think he’ll come in and really be able to help us.”
Then there’s Callahan. He’s an enigma. He actually signed with the Broncos prior to last season. But a foot injury — and long, deliberate recovery — prevented Callahan from ever seeing the field. His absence impacted the Broncos’ defense as much as anyone who played in 2019. Without an established cornerback opposite Harris, the Broncos weren’t able to conduct their defense as planned. This year, the 29-year-old Callahan must be good for the Broncos to be good.
“We’ll have a good group (of defensive backs) to work with,” Fangio said.
B) The safeties must be worth the money.
That’s Simmons and Kareem Jackson. They are the second- and fourth-highest-paid safeties in the NFL, respectively. They account for more than $22 million this season. Not only should the position be the strength of the defense; it should be the best safety tandem in the NFL.
No one’s expecting the second coming of the defunct “No Fly Zone.”
Everyone should expect better from a secondary that allowed last-minute defeats to the Bears, Jaguars and Colts — losses that doomed the 2019 season.