Unheralded John Simon a solid fit with Patriots, would welcome return

Outside linebacker John Simon on returning to the Patriots: "There's been some talks, and things look promising." Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When outside linebacker John Simon arrived for his free-agent workout with the New England Patriots in late September, he brought only a small bag because he figured the visit would end similarly to previous weeks -- without a deal.

It turns out he needed a moving truck.

And now, after Simon emerged as an unheralded contributor to the team's Super Bowl LIII championship season in a year of unexpected change, there is some optimism that he won't be needing the moving truck again. The Patriots have already discussed a return before he is scheduled to become a free agent March 13.

"There's been some talks, and things look promising," Simon told ESPN.com. "I'm not going to comment on a lot of that stuff right now, but I enjoyed my time playing for Bill [Belichick]. I think he's a great coach and I'd definitely love to play for him again."

How the 28-year-old Simon wound up in New England, and then quickly carved out a notable role on defense and special teams, was one of the undertold stories of the team's title run.

First, he was released by the Indianapolis Colts at the end of the 2018 preseason, just one year after signing a three-year, $13.5 million deal. The Colts' scheme change from a 3-4 defense under former coach Chuck Pagano to a 4-3 under new coach Frank Reich was partly a catalyst for what Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard called a "tough, hard decision."

Then, three weeks later, the Patriots lost promising rookie linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley for the season (torn biceps) in a Sept. 23 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Enter Simon, who signed a modest one-year, $800,000 contract to fill the void.

"Just being employed again, obviously, first and foremost," Simon said, when asked what had appealed to him about landing in New England. "I think I got there on Wednesday and was able to play on Sunday, so that was something I was looking forward to and wanted to do. I was happy to help."

And he did, playing in two games before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the next two games. Upon his return, he played in the final nine regular-season contests, totaling 18 tackles and two sacks in 159 defensive snaps.

Simon's role grew larger over three playoff games, as he played 85 defensive snaps, contributing with a big tackle for a loss in Super Bowl LIII and a half-sack in the AFC Championship Game.

At 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, Simon's toughness and physicality to set the edge in the running game was noted by safety Duron Harmon. Simon was often the third linebacker called upon when the team went to bigger personnel, and he also played in some nickel packages in a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker spot. His willingness to adapt to the team's ever-evolving game plans and adeptness at fulfilling multiple responsibilities made him a solid fit.

Simon's integration into the team's system had some similarities to the early years of Rob Ninkovich's productive tenure with the Patriots (2009-16). Just as Ninkovich had been with a few teams before landing in New England, so too had Simon; he was a fourth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2013 before stints with the Houston Texans (2014-16) and Colts (2017).

"I've prided myself on being able to do multiple things. Whatever a team needed me to do, I was always happy to be that guy to kind of change roles throughout the week. I think that's something the Patriots take pride in as a whole with their defense," he said.

"They have a lot of those guys who are able to kind of adapt week by week -- maybe this week you're going to do this, the following week we want you to do this. It's what is best for the team. There are a lot of selfless guys. I think that's what I enjoyed about the defense the most."

Along the way, he also experienced one of life's great joys -- becoming a father for the second time when his wife, Brittany, delivered their son Elijah on Jan. 22, two days after the thrilling victory in the AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs.

"That was a lot of stress -- I don't want to say on me, but for my wife. Those couple weeks in the playoffs, she wasn't able to come to the home game against the Chargers, because he could be due any time, and you don't want something to happen at the game. Then we're going to Kansas City and he's due that weekend. What happens if I'm in Kansas City and she goes into labor?" Simon recalled.

"But it all worked out -- it happened on the one day we were off. God bless her. She timed it up perfect. Healthy baby, healthy wife, everything worked out the way it was supposed to."

Simon is enjoying time with the family at their home in Indianapolis, where they thought he would finish his NFL career.

Now, that could be New England.

"Free agency hasn't started yet, but we'll see how it goes from there. I really enjoyed my time in New England, so definitely would love to be back there, but you never know in this business," he said. "I've been cut twice [Ravens in 2014, Colts in 2018]. One of the years I was cut, I won a Super Bowl. So it's kind of crazy how things work out, but that's just the way it goes. You have to adapt to how things are shaking out and kind of roll with the punches.

"Just winning the Super Bowl is a dream come true. I might have taken a longer way to get there than some people, but got there all the same. The Patriots have done it before, but for me, that was my first experience, and one I'll always remember."