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Flurry of veteran salary dumps floods NFL free agency with a surplus of safeties

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Justin Simmons' release isn't just collateral damage from the Russell Wilson debacle in Denver, but the latest sign of a shifting of priorities in the NFL that's resulted in a surplus of safeties flooding the free agent market.

Like inside linebackers and running backs before them, safeties are finding that teams are more and more inclined to prioritize passers, pass rushers, offensive and defensive linemen, wide receivers and cornerbacks.

This trend, combined with the $85 million in dead cap charges facing the Broncos when they release Wilson as the new league year begins Wednesday, resulted in the Broncos cutting ties with Simmons to save $14.5 million.

A cornerstone of the community, Simmons is a perennial All-Pro who leads the NFL with 30 interceptions since joining in the league in 2016. He also holds the distinction of having the most interceptions — five — of three-time Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes.

Simmons immediately shot toward the top of available free agents, but his age (30), the glut of talent at his position and this shift in teams' financial focus could keep his earning power from skyrocketing.

When the New York Giants decided not to place one of their tags on Xavier McKinney, the free safety who allowed zero touchdowns last season looked prime to cash in as the cream of the safeties in free agency.

Then, the market was flooded as teams began dumping higher-priced safeties, including some with All-Pro pedigree such as Simmons, Kevin Byard, Eddie Jackson and Jordan Poyer.

Jamal Adams, Eddie Jackson, Quandre Diggs and Rayshawn Jenkins also were cut this week and Marcus Maye is designated for a post-June 1 release from the Saints.

Poyer's departure from Buffalo was part of the Bills' massive makeover as they entered the offseason a projected NFL-high $44 million over the salary cap, necessitating the release of five veterans and the restructuring of Von Miller's contract.

The Philadelphia Eagles cleared some $13 million in cap space by releasing Byard, a two-time All-Pro who, like Simmons, is 30 years old. He had one interception and 75 tackles in 10 games for the Eagles, who acquired him from Tennessee last season.

Chicago cut ties with Jackson, who had 15 interceptions and returned three for touchdowns in seven seasons. He also ran back three fumble recoveries for scores. He was an All-Pro in 2018 when he had six interceptions and two pick-6s.

The Seahawks' release of both Adams and Diggs leaves Julian Love as the only safety with extensive playing time on Seattle’s roster.

Injuries kept Adams from living up to his hefty pricetag in four disappointing seasons in Seattle but Diggs made three straight Pro Bowls from 2020-22 after coming over from Detroit via a trade in 2019.

The Jaguars released Jenkins along with two other starters, cornerback Darious Williams and defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi, to create $20 million in salary cap space.

The only safety franchise-tagged for 2024 was the Buccaneers' Antoine Winfield, guaranteeing him $17.123 million next season, a number the slew of safeties on the open market will be hard-pressed to reach.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl