Coming off a disappointing 2020 campaign, the New England Patriots are headed into a pivotal offseason: they need to rebuild a roster that went just 7-9 last year and is in need of some major upgrades across the board. Part of those could be bringing back the players scheduled to enter free agency later this month — and there are quite a few of them.
All in all, 26 players that were with New England in one way last season are in need of a new contract. Among them is defensive edge John Simon, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 17.
Name: John Simon
Position: Outside linebacker/Defensive edge
Jersey number: 55
Opening day age: 30
Size: 6-foot-2, 260 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
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.
Coming off his third season with the Patriots, Simon has built quite an impressive résumé: since arriving in the league, he has appeared in 97 regular season games as well as five playoff contests. He also has registered 21.5 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 2020 season look like? With the Patriots having lost a significant portion of their linebacker position during the offseason — including their number one outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy and move options Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins — Simon took over a bigger role within the team’s new-look defensive front seven. He was effectively the number one option on the defensive edge and as such saw regular action versus both the run and the pass throughout the 2020 season.
All in all, Simon was on the field for 702 of a possible 1,017 defensive snaps (69%). No other member of the front seven was given more opportunities. However, that was more of a reflection of the team’s available personnel than the veteran’s on-field performance. After all, Simon had a disappointing third year as a Patriot: he was unable to make the next step in his development and proved himself an inconsistent player when asked to take on a bigger role within the linebacker group.
This was apparent in the running game, where he saw more than half of his defensive snaps (compared to those that saw him rush the passer or drop into coverage). While Simon was reliable in this area one year earlier, teams successfully moved him off his spot to get around the corner on perimeter runs in 2020. New England’s run defense struggled all year long, and the team’s inability to set a firm edge was a major factor in this. Simon’s play was not the only issue but certainly a contributing one given his prominent role.
While he saw more action versus the run in 2020, his pass rushing opportunities remained mostly the same as the year prior. On average, he rushed the passer 15 times per game and finished with 17 quarterback disruptions — tied for fifth most on the team. For comparison, Simon was used as a pass rusher on 14.8 snaps per game in 2019 while notching 19 total pressures. New England did gave him his fair share of snaps in the passing game, but it was obvious the team viewed him as more integral a part of its run defense than its pass rush.
Besides seeing regular snaps on the defensive side of the ball, Simon also was employed quite a bit on special teams. He was on the field for 152 of a possible 397 snaps (38.3%) while being used on four kicking game units: he played on the punt and kickoff return squads as well as the punt coverage team; Simon also saw action in the field goal and extra point blocking departments. He did not register any statistic in the game’s third phase, though.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? When Simon was drafted by the Ravens in 2013, he signed a standard four-year rookie contract worth $2.5 million. He only spent one season under this original deal, however, and did not see his first noteworthy payday until entering restricted free agency in 2016. After playing the season on a $1.7 million tender sheet, Simon then signed a three-year, $14 million pact in Indianapolis. He later joined the Patriots on a one-year, $1 million contract and returned via a two-year, $4.2 million extension in 2019. All in all, his contractual career earnings are estimated at $14.9 million by Over the Cap.
Which teams might be in the running? Given his experience and potential when used in a more rotational role, Simon might see quite a lively market develop later this month. Numerous teams are in need of help along the defensive edge, according to Pro Football Focus, and five of those have ties to New England: the Texans (GM Nick Caserio), Kansas City Chiefs (D-line coach Brendan Daly), Miami Dolphins (HC Brian Flores), New York Giants (HC Joe Judge) and Tennessee Titans (GM Jon Robinson/HC Mike Vrabel).
Why should he be expected back? Even with Dont’a Hightower returning off the Covid-19 opt-out list, the Patriots’ linebacker corps lacks experienced depth. Simon would offer just that if re-signed while possibly being allowed to play in a role better suited to his strengths: with youngsters Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings as candidates to make the second-year jump, Simon could go back to the rotational role he flourished in during the 2019 season — all while likely playing on a cost-effective deal.
Why should he be expected to leave? Considering the teams that might be in the running for his services, Simon might price himself out of New England’s comfort zone despite having played some inconsistent football in 2020. In that case, the team will likely not enter a bidding war for a player on the wrong side of 30 — especially at a position that saw some major investments over the last two offseasons in the form of high-round draft picks Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings.
What is his projected free agency outcome? Simon has played a prominent role for the Patriots the last three seasons but is no lock to return in 2021. Unless he agrees to play on another deal averaging around $2 million per season, New England could very well decide to move on and look elsewhere to bolster the defensive edge alongside its young core. Seeing Simon wear another uniform — possibly that of the teams mentioned above — would therefore not be too big of a surprise.