Patriots Free Agents: Could John Simon Return As Rotational Defender?

The Patriots' defense struggled with Simon as a starter in 2020


March 9, 2021

The Patriots have 22 players set to hit unrestricted free agency when the NFL league year opens March 17. As that date approaches, we?re taking a closer look at New England?s free agents.

Up next: edge defender John Simon.

2020 stats: 53 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, QB hit, nine hurries, three passes defended

Likelihood of return: moderate

Analysis: Simon, 30, took on a bigger defensive role in 2020 increasing his snap count from 533 plays in 2019 up to 702 snaps while starting all 16 games last season. He also saw his PFF grade drop precipitously.

2018: 67.1 PFF grade
2019: 73.0 PFF grade
2020: 48.3 PFF grade

Simon was forced to drop back into coverage more frequently after the Patriots lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts in free agency and Dont’a Hightower to an opt-out. Coverage isn’t the strength of Simon’s game, so that’s part of the reason for his lowered grade.

Simon also saw his missed tackles rise from four whiffs in 2019 up to 10 missed tackles in 2020. His total pressures dropped from 24 combined sacks, QB hits and hurries in 2019 to just 12 pressures in 2020 despite only receiving eight fewer pass-rush snaps.

Surprisingly, Simon’s run defense grade also dropped from a 77.7 in 2018 to 68.8 in 2019 and 49.2 in 2020. New England’s run defense was significantly worse in general last season without Van Noy, Collins, Roberts, Hightower and nose tackle Danny Shelton. The Patriots signed nose tackle Beau Allen to replace Shelton but he missed the entire 2020 season with an injury. The entire unit struggled, and it might not be fair to point the finger at one particular player as the cause.

So, where does Simon stand now as New England attempts to reinvigorate its defense?

Despite a down year in 2020, he certainly could return in 2021. Simon, who signed a two-year, $4.45 million contract before the 2019 season, likely won’t cost much in free agency, and he proved in 2018 and 2019 to be a serviceable and quality depth piece. In an ideal world, Simon would not be a starter next season, however. The Patriots are getting Hightower back from his opt-out, and they could also re-sign Van Noy if the Miami Dolphins can’t find a trade partner for the linebacker. New England also should look to boost their defensive tackle, linebacker and defensive end depth across the board.

If Simon can find a better offer, then he’ll likely be gone. But Simon could still be a valuable rotational defender in 2021 and beyond.

Previous free agent profiles: LG Joe ThuneyRB James WhiteDT Lawrence GuyC David AndrewsCB Jason McCourtyRB Rex BurkheadDT Adam ButlerDE Deatrich WiseOL Jermaine EluemunorWR Damiere Byrd, K Nick Folk, QB Cam Newton

Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images
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