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Why are NFL safeties being released in large numbers? Could they face the same fate as running backs in a disappearing market?

The Denver Broncos’ decision to release star safety Justin Simmons could easily be written off as collateral damage and a regrettable but necessary step toward recalibrating their salary cap.

But digging deeper, a trend seems to be forming at Simmons’ position, as a group of safeties have flooded the free-agent market with teams seemingly prioritizing other areas of the roster. Kevin Byard, Jordan Poyer, Jamal Adams, Eddie Jackson, Quandre Diggs, Rayshawn Jenkins and Marcus Maye were all cut (or designated a post-June 1 cut in Maye’s case) while Antoine Winfield Jr. was franchise tagged by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kyle Dugger was transition tagged by the New England Patriots and Xavier McKinney wasn’t tagged in any capacity by the New York Giants.


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There was a brief moment Tuesday when McKinney seemed to be in a prime position to monopolize the top tier of the safety market in free agency. But within 48 hours, he was shoulder to shoulder with more peers than he likely expected.

The supply is in line to outweigh the demand, which could drive down the value of the position. It’s unlikely to be as dramatic as the running backs’ sinking market, but seven personnel executives and coaches around the NFL told The Athletic something has been developing, even if it only becomes a short-term trend.

“(It’s part of a) larger financial trend,” an executive said. “The market got too high for the position’s impact overall.”

To be fair, it’s impossible to separate Simmons’ release from quarterback Russell Wilson, whose release will result in $85 million in dead cap space against the Broncos. Simmons, 30, may not be at the top of his game any longer, but rival teams still viewed him as one of the game’s best safeties, and his leadership is beyond reproach. But the $14.5 million in cap savings is significant for a team in severe financial disarray in the wake of Wilson’s release. The Broncos will have a series of difficult contractual decisions to make until Wilson’s money comes off the cap.

“(Simmons) is too expensive considering everything else they need to do,” a coach said. “Russell Wilson is an expensive divorce.”



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In that respect, Simmons’ release is unique.

But that’s not the whole story. For all of Simmons’ positive attributes, a few of the executives recognized why he wasn’t necessarily worth the cap hit, and the argument was geared more toward the position as a whole.


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