One of the biggest cuts of the Chris Ballard era took place just prior to the 2018 roster deadline. The Colts released outside linebacker/defensive end John Simon.
Just talked to source re: John Simon who is, in fact, being released by the Colts. Simon is stunned, as am I. I actually predicted back in June he'd get cut, but then he played like a madman in preseason and I recanted. I'm shocked.— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) September 1, 2018
Before the final cuts were submitted, Chris Ballard made an attempt to trade Simon, but no team made an offer for the six-year veteran, according to Holder.
Simon originally signed with the Colts as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, a position he played in his first four seasons before joining the Colts. This year, the Colts are transitioning to a new defense under coordinator Matt Eberflus. There were questions about his fit as a 4-3 defensive end and concerns that he may not have a natural position in the new scheme.
It appears that the coaching staff and front office have ultimately reached that conclusion. If so, this isn’t the first time a decision like this has been made. Earlier this year, Chris Ballard traded defensive lineman Henry Anderson to the New York Jets, let starting corner back Rashaan Melvin leave via free agency and released Johnathan Hankins — another one of his primary free agent additions a year ago.
For those keeping score at home, Colts defensive players the team has cut this offseason due to the scheme change: Jon Hankins, Henry Anderson, John Simon. All can play.— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) September 1, 2018
At only 27-years-old, Simon recorded 43 tackles (25 solo), three sacks and one interception in nine games in 2017. His season was cut short due to a neck injury, which caused him to miss the final seven games. He recently suffered another minor neck injury, so one could possibly speculate that this played a role in the decision as well.
The three biggest reasons this move comes as such a shock is that: 1) Simon was arguably the most consistently effective pass rushing defensive end all preseason, 2) there is a lack of proven veteran leadership on the Colts defense generally, 3) Simon is the epitome of the type of player that Chris Ballard has constantly described as ideal for the Colts locker room and fits into the “tough” mantra head coach Frank Reich has espoused since he arrived in Indianapolis.
The Indianapolis coaching staff acknowledged that Simon was impressive throughout training camp. Colts head coach Frank Reich went as far as saying that it was hard to get rid of a player as valuable as Simon.
“He’s having a great camp,” Reich said before the Colts preseason opener against Seattle. “He’s a smart, savvy, tough vet. It’s hard to put a price on that.”
The most valid explanation for Simon’s release is that Chris Ballard may not feel comfortable parting with Tarrell Basham after only one year, he may plan to start Kemoko Turay or at least have him enter the games primarily in passing situations, and the emergence of Ryan Delaire made Simon expendable. One could argue that Delaire is a more natural long-term fit as a 4-3 defensive end and there are only so many spots on the roster.
The least valid explanation for Simon’s release is that Margus Hunt remains on the roster and will presumably be used at defensive end. If John Simon is a poor scheme fit at the position, Hunt clearly is as well. Hunt has more special teams value as a kick blocking specialist but it’s hard to make a valid argument to keep Hunt over Simon because he might block a kick at some point in the season.
Simon shouldn’t be on the market too long because of the fact he’s proven to be a productive player, when healthy, throughout his tenure — tallying at least three sacks the last three seasons.
After all, Simon is a veteran, and veterans sacrifice me for we a majority of the time. That’s the type of player he is and will continue to be.
“All I’ve ever known in my career is just come in and work hard and do whatever I can to help,” Simon said during the early parts of training camp. “I’ve been able to be productive so far and help out the team and that’s my main goal.”
Ballard signed Simon to a three-year, $13.5 million deal one year ago. In 2018, he was due to make $3 million in salary and $4 million in 2019.