Friday, July 12, 2024

Broncos Gambling Big on High-Dollar Safety

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After the Denver Broncos decided to move on from Justin Simmons, they strategically targeted Brandon Jones, a four-year veteran. After his rookie contract with the Miami Dolphins ended, the Broncos offered Jones a $20 million deal over three years.

It may seem like a big contract for a player with a career-high of 644 snaps (2021), which would have been the 60th-most snaps for a safety in 2023. However, the Broncos saw potential in Jones, despite his 71st-most snaps among all safeties in the 2023 season, and gave him the 22nd-highest contract for a safety in average per year.

This move is a calculated risk, but part of the Broncos’ strategic plan for the future. 

Despite having four years in the NFL, Jones has been a part-time player for the Dolphins. He played over 500 snaps in only two seasons and only once over 600.

Jones was the Dolphins’ No. 3 safety, and his play in that role was average at best. According to Pro Football Focus‘ grades for overall defense, Jones ranked 59th out of 94 in 2020, 85th out of 95 in 2021 (the year he played his highest snap count), 64th out of 89 in 2022, and then 16th out of 95 in 2023. The Broncos are gambling after the best year of his career, so at least there is that. 

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Jones played 542 snaps last season, while 26 safeties played at least 1,000 snaps. That will be a big jump for him, and there is no clue how well he can hold up with such a high snap total.

A lot of money is going towards Jones, and they have to have him as a starter. The Broncos can’t pay him the 18th-highest contract in total value to have him as the third safety. If he doesn’t play like a starter, then Denver is paying him too much money. No matter what, the Broncos are giving him  $11 million in guaranteed money.

With all that said, there is plenty of reason to believe that the best football is yet to come with Jones. The NFL is about “what have you done for me lately,” and he had the best season of his career in 2023.

Jones showed up in coverage and as a blitzer, grading 16th out of 78 safeties with at least 500 snaps in both aspects. That is where he is strongest, which can help the Broncos with their issues covering tight ends. 

The significant issue with Jones has been his run defense, which has been hit or miss over his career. With the Broncos’ issues against the run throughout last season, they need him to be more consistent. That means being quicker to read and react, correctly identifying the run, and being clean and consistent with his tackling. 

The tackling? Jones had the 13th-highest missed-tackle percentage among safeties last season. In his two seasons playing over 500 snaps, he had an 18.3 and 16.9 missed tackle percentage, missing 26 tackles combined.

That gives the Broncos one of the most unreliable tacklers at each position on defense, with D.J. Jones, Alex Singleton, Nik Bonitto, Ja’Quan McMillian, and Jones. The concern about the Broncos’ defense should be clear as day, and Jones only adds to it. 

Jones can help the Broncos replace Simmons in coverage, but Simmons was more of a difference-maker. However, the concern remains about Jones’ run defense and whether he can help the Broncos improve after being one of the worst units last season. Time will tell whether the Broncos’ gamble on him pays off. 

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