While many have taken umbrage with the unexpected release of John Simon, myself included, it did not happen out of the blue. So how is it that John Simon saw his role snatched right out from under him by a guy who had been out of the game for a year?
The most obvious clue that Simon’s spot on the roster was in tenuous position was the fact that in the third preseason game, he was still playing deep into the game. In retrospect, the reason why is pretty easy to guess.
Starting in week two, Delaire had started putting on a clinic against the 3rd and 4th string offenses. Using a whole slew of pass rush moves, Delaire was launching an assault on the quarterback that made him look like the clear best player on the field. In short, he was dominating backups in exactly the way a starting caliber NFL player should.
John Simon? He looked like the same gritty, hard-working guy he did all offseason. He has one of the highest motors of any Colts defender we’ve had in a while. He also has a knack for making plays when they’re needed, and that is valuable. But he didn’t pop off the screen in the way Delaire did. Simon wins on effort more than ability. The Colts clearly wanted these two playing against the same level of competition to get a good comparison, and they obviously felt that Delaire outshone Simon.
If we look back to last preseason we see a similar picture. John Simon was outstanding last preseason. He was grabbing interceptions, forcing fumbles, and generally wreaking havoc for the Colts’ defense. I remember how excited I started getting for the Colts’ defense last season watching him. Then when the regular season began, Simon’s level of disruption went way down.
It wasn’t that he was a bad player, far from it. Simon’s blue-collar attitude was one of the few things to truly enjoy in some of the performances from last season. However, that dominant force that we saw in the preseason didn’t really carry over. His effort more than his ability was the thing that had been getting big wins for him in the preseason, and once the starting opponents upped their play in conjunction with the regular season, it revealed his limitations as a flashy playmaker.
Fast forward to this offseason, which saw a shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. Simon was viewed immediately as a longshot to make the roster. His size was not ideal for a defensive end in the scheme, and he lacked the athleticism and pass rush moves to negate being undersized. Additionally, he wasn’t suited for the new type of linebacker the defense was looking for.
Then training camp and the preseason happened. We saw the same John Simon who made plays and caused disruption take his spot in the preseason. He was clearly one of the more impactful players on the roster. So, by the time the preseason wrapped up, few people were predicting that Simon might lose his job.
While I don’t really agree with the move, I think after a day to reflect, I understand it. John Simon has a clearly defined ceiling. His size and athletic ability mean that his impact has a limit below what several of the other players could provide. Chris Ballard obviously believes that guys like Ryan Delaire and rookie Kemoko Turay are better fits for the scheme and provide a higher possible ceiling for the team.
There is something to be said for rewarding effort. John Simon worked hard and as much as anyone, seems to have done enough to earn a roster spot. However, a balance has to be struck between keeping the players who are currently performing the best, versus players with the greatest potential.
Ballard wants to build a team that can get after the quarterback. Long-term, John Simon is not an integral piece of that. He was a stopgap player who fit the culture of the team.
I believe there is an argument to be made for keeping Simon and cutting Margus Hunt, but Hunt also offers a versatility that Simon doesn’t by working at several spots on the defensive line and on special teams, so I can understand that decision as well, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it.
Ultimately, Ballard decided that the potential of players like Ryan Delaire and more importantly, perhaps, rookie Kemoko Turay were more important to develop than to keep John Simon on the roster. The best way to develop them? By letting them play. They can’t do that if John Simon is taking their snaps.
Time will tell whether or not this was the right call. We didn’t see much of Turay during camp because of injuries. Delaire didn’t face top level competition, but also hadn’t had much time to learn the ins and outs of the defense, which means we don’t know exactly what to expect from him once the regular season kicks off.
If one of these guys or both develops into a top-quality pass rusher, Ballard will be completely justified in this move. If the team struggles all season long to get to the quarterback and they don’t see development from these two guys, we will all wonder what difference Simon could have made. Such is the life of a general manager in the NFL.