Garett Bolles named second-team All-Pro; Justin Simmons falls short

Left tackle reaches another milestone in rebound
Garett Bolles
Posted at 10:44 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-09 00:44:13-05

DENVER -- The kids fell asleep, the window for practice opened and Garett Bolles needed help. There was never a bad time to work on his sets and footwork, even in the kitchen, even at night. He needed a defender.

"My wife (Natalie) was watching TV in the other room. She was the only one awake, so I asked her to help," Bolles told Denver7 last month.

Natalie did not hesitate.

"I got this. I am ready. Let's see what you got?" Natalie recalled of the moment. "I got passed him a few times (she said smiling). Let's not talk about that."

The scene drove home Bolles' dedication to improve. He left no moment spared as he put his head down this offseason. Friday, it paid dividends as Bolles was named second-team All-Pro, the only Broncos player to claim the honor. Safety Justin Simmons, who made the team a year ago, fell two votes short of second-team recognition.

For Bolles, it offered validation of a breathtaking rebound. The former first round pick struggled in his first three seasons, leading the Broncos in penalties. Denver, understandably, declined his fifth-year rookie option in April and said Bolles would have to win the starting job in training camp.

Then something fascinating happened. Given the choice to become better or bitter, Bolles rolled up his sleeves.

Taking to Mike Munchak's coaching -- Bolles' trust in Munchak cannot be overstated in his transformation -- and buoyed by support from coach Vic Fangio, Bolles arrived in traing camp a changed player. His technique became polished, his temper and bouts of frustration dissolved. Once a liability, he developed into the Broncos' best offensive player. The Broncos awarded him with a four-year, $68 million contract extension with $38 million guaranteed.

"It's a blessing. This is a special place. Everything about Colorado holds a special place in my heart. Hopefully I will retire a Bronco," Bolles told Denver7.

By any measure, Bolles, 28, put together an amazing season. He allowed zero sacks, four hurries and 11 pressure in 522 pass plays. And he consistently ranked in the top three in run blocking by Pro Football Focus metrics. Bolles was snubbed for the Pro Bowl, which remains more of a popularity contest, but Friday's honor provides a soothing balm. All-Pro is the highest honor in the NFL. Bolles received 18 votes. Only Packers first-teamer David Bakhtiari received more.

Bolles credits his faith and family for his remarkable U-turn.

"The last couple of years with people booing me and trying to get rid of me, my family was also there for me," Bolles said. "That's what really matters most. It brought tears to my eyes (to get the contract). I made it. Now I can focus taking care of my family and this game I love dearly."

For Simmons, this offseason represents a reversal of fortune. He received Pro Bowl honors for the first time, but missed out on second-team All-Pro by two votes to Cincinnati's Jessie Bates III. Last season, Simmons was snubbed for the Pro Bowl, but earned second-team All-Pro. Simmons arguably had a better season, posting 94 tackles with five interceptions.

His status hangs over the offseason. He played last season under the franchise tag. The Broncos can tag him again. However, Simmons has placed himself in position to get paid with his play, locker room leadership and commitment to the community (he earned the team's Walter Payton Man of the Year nomination for the second straight season).

"I think the season was just difficult. It's kind of hard to say about the tag and kind of separating the two," said Simmons on the prospect of playing back-to-back seasons on the tag. "I think the season in general was difficult with everything that was going on. So, it was just tough in and of itself, but yeah, that's pretty much how I feel about that. I haven't had the chance to really sit down and have a conversation with my agent yet, so to your second question, I don't really have an answer (about playing on the tag again).”