With one month to go until they are scheduled to report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with a member of New England’s linebacker group.
Name: John Simon
Position: Outside linebacker/Defensive edge
Jersey number: 55
Opening day age: 29
Size: 6-foot-2, 260 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 UFA)
What is his experience? Simon’s NFL journey began in 2013, when the Baltimore Ravens selected him 129th overall of the draft. After one season during which he played almost exclusively on special teams, and a short stint on the Ravens practice squad, the Houston Texans signed the former fourth-round pick to their active roster. Simon went on to spend two-and-a-half seasons in Houston, and appeared 39 combined regular season and playoff games for the team — notching 10 sacks along the way.
In 2017, the Ohio State product left the Texans to sign with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency. While he did see regular action after joining the team, his season came to a premature end after nine games due to a shoulder injury. While Simon was back on the field the following year, the Colts opted to release him on roster cutdown day. Their decision to part ways with him did open the doors for him to join the Patriots, though: New England signed him in late September, and he went on to appear in 14 games for the club in 2018.
Now entering his third season with the Patriots, Simon has built quite an impressive résumé: since arriving in the league, he has appeared in 81 regular season games as well as five playoff contests. He also has registered 19.5 sacks as well as two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one recovery — all while also winning a Super Bowl in his first season in New England.
What did his 2019 season look like? Simon was scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency following the Patriots’ win in Super Bowl 53, but the team kept him around on a two-year contract extension worth $7.13 million. This allowed the veteran to spend an entire offseason in New England, and the results showed: with Trey Flowers having left the team, Simon took on an important role in the Patriots’ front-seven during the 2019 season as their number one pure outside/edge linebacker opposite Kyle Van Noy.
As such, the seventh-year man appeared in all 16 of New England’s regular season games — only the second time in his career that he did not miss at least one contest — as well as the team’s lone playoff appearance. Overall, Simon was on the field for a combined 533 defensive snaps (of 1,070; 49.8%) as well as 194 more in the kicking game (of 474; 40.9%). Essentially speaking, he can therefore be seen as a core member of both units and his production especially on defense justified that role.
Simon may have finished the season as only the sixth most productive pass rusher on the Patriots’ defense with 19 combined quarterback pressures — four sacks, nine hits, six hurries — but he made an impact nevertheless. In Week 7 against the New York Jets, for example, he forced a fumble that was recovered by the aforementioned Kyle Van Noy when he took down New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. One week before that, he had registered an interception off a pass tipped by cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Simon also consistently followed the Patriots’ “Do Your Job” mantra in the running game: he registered 37 tackles with just two misses, and successfully set a firm edge no matter where he aligned within the team’s defensive formation. All in all, 2019 was therefore another successful campaign for the former journeyman. While it did not end with a championship like his first one in New England, he proved himself a durable and reliable member of the team’s front-line defense.
What is his projected role? While he was used on a more rotational basis upon his arrival in New England in 2018, Simon has since carved out a starting role on the team’s defensive edge — one he is expected to reprise this year. As such, he will again serve as an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid who is capable of aligning on both the strong and the weak side of the formation and who will be asked to set the edge versus the run and provide pass rush from the five-technique out.
What is his special teams value? Simon may have only contributed one tackle in the kicking game in 2019, but his value cannot be underestimated. He appeared on both punt and kick return units, and also saw regular action on punt coverage and as a member of New England’s field goal/extra point blocking squad. Unless his defensive playing time share increases dramatically, the 29-year-old will likely again see plenty of special teams action in 2020.
Does he have positional versatility? The Patriots have added considerable positional flexibility to their defense this offseason — Simon is a rather conservative option for comparison. While he has shown that he can play on both the left and the right end of the line and against weak and strong looks, he does not offer much as an off-the-ball defender or traditional inside linebacker (unlike, for example, Dont’a Hightower or Josh Uche). That said, Simon is very good at what he does.
What is his salary cap situation? Entering the final year of the contract he signed last offseason, Simon is on the Patriots’ books with a salary cap number of $2.68 million. While the team could save all but $375,000 of it (his signing bonus proration) by either releasing or trading him, such a move seems unlikely: Simon’s deal presents a solid value for the organization relative to his projected role within the defense this year.
What is his roster outlook? With the Patriots having lost number one outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy in free agency, Simon might see an even bigger role within the team’s front-seven this year. While he will likely not replace Van Noy one-for-one, he is projected to play a prominent role within the team’s rotation at the defensive edge alongside second-year man Chase Winovich, veteran offseason acquisition Brandon Copeland, and rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings. No matter what his actual role will look like, Simon can be considered close to a roster lock.