Broncos history shows the importance of a dynamic duo at safety
The Broncos have vastly improved their roster through both trades and free agency this offseason. The additions of Russell Wilson, D.J. Jones and Randy Gregory have many believing the Broncos could not only win the AFC West, but could make a run at the Super Bowl.
If the Broncos are serious about contending for a Super Bowl, they have one last free agent signing to make. That is safety Kareem Jackson.
Safety isn’t mentioned as often when discussing key positions on a roster, but it is more important than given credit for, especially when it comes to the Broncos. As it stands now, Justin Simmons and second-year player Caden Sterns would be the Broncos starting safety duo.
Simmons is elite but Sterns is inexperienced. Looking through Broncos history, a top safety combination played a role in Super Bowls.
In 1997, the Broncos won Super Bowl XXXII, and the game is remembered for a brilliant MVP performance by Terrell Davis. What’s not talked about is the performance of the Broncos starting safeties Tyrone Braxton and Steve Atwater.
The safety duo came up big twice in the first half that helped the Broncos gain an early lead on the Packers. Braxton recorded an early interception that led to touchdown and Atwater laid a big hit on Brett Favre that forced a fumble that resulted in a field goal.
Braxton and Atwater were continually present and effective through the 1997-98 back to back Super Bowl victories. Together, they could be relied upon and were not a liability in the big moments.
The Broncos Super Bowl 50 defense is one of the best, if not the best, in NFL history. Super Bowl 50 is known for Von Miller’s brilliant performance and the Broncos’ defense battering Cam Newton for 60 minutes.
Two of the key players in Super Bowl 50 were safeties Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward. In that game, Stewart forced a fumble, had three tackles and sacked Newton. Ward had an interception, recovered a fumble and recored seven tackles. As much as the front seven of the Broncos ruined Newton’s day, Stewart and Ward were there to make big plays to allow the Broncos to pull off the upset.
In both Super Bowl XXXII and Super Bowl 50, the Broncos were underdogs to high-powered offenses in the Packers and Panthers, respectively. Braxton, Atwater, Stewart and Ward all created momentum changing turnovers that were vital to the Broncos victories in both Super Bowls.
Along with Simmons, Jackson has been the Broncos most-reliable defensive player the last three seasons. The duo struggled early in 2021 with the deep passes, but considering their coach was Vic Fangio, we can probably excuse the early miscommunications. The tandem recovered and played well down the final half of the season.
In 2019, the Broncos lost to the Jaguars as Leonard Fournette ran all over the defense. Jackson didn’t play that game and it was felt. Everybody always pointed to the 2019 road win over the Texans as Drew Lock’s best performance. Lock was great, but Jackson was the driving force behind that blowout victory.
Jackson is experienced, a leader and has chemistry with Simmons. The Broncos have never won a Super Bowl without an experienced and reliable safety combination. Pairing up Jackson and Simmons one more time makes sense.
Some people may want Tyrann Mathieu, but I’m not sure the Broncos could afford the Honey Badger. Jackson would be affordable and the familiarity with his teammates is already established.
Poor safety play has cost the Broncos in the postseason. In 2012, The Broncos made a series of mistakes that led to the upset loss against the Ravens. The loss can’t be pinned on one play, but the mistake made by second-year safety Rahim Moore is what caught the most attention. Moore’s poor judgment resulted in the Ravens tying the game on a deep ball in a heartbreaking moment for Broncos country.
The Broncos have improved their pass rush, however with Bradley Chubb’s injury history and Gregory’s current shoulder recovery, the Broncos need a strong secondary should they be down a pass rusher for any stretch in 2022.
The AFC West is stacked with teams that can throw the ball, and holes in the secondary will be easily exploited. The Broncos can’t afford mistakes by any position, especially the safety. Both Super Bowl XXXII and Super Bowl 50 are examples of disruptive safeties can slow down elite offenses.
The Broncos have never won a Super Bowl without a Hall of Fame quarterback. That’s what makes Russell Wilson’s arrival exciting. However, the Broncos have also never won a Super Bowl without playmaking safeties.
Bringing back Kareem Jackson provides the Broncos a safety combination that is comparable to the best in Broncos history. As we saw in 2012, a hole at the safety position can have major consequences. The Broncos can avoid those consequences by signing Kareem Jackson.