INDIANAPOLIS — Facing a 4 p.m. ET deadline on Saturday to trim the offseason 90-man roster to its 53-man, regular season version, Chris Ballard knew he'd had some extremely tough decisions to make.
And as he evaluated the defensive line, Ballard saw three quality veterans at the left defensive end spot; if all three were kept on the Week 1 roster, then that meant the team's young, talented prospects at the right defensive end position, where speed and get-off are the priority, wouldn't likely get the early opportunities they needed to develop and show what they could do.
So it came down to sheer numbers and positional fit for Ballard, who ultimately made the difficult decision to release veteran John Simon, one of the more productive members of the Colts' defense in his first season with the team last year.
"I'm close with John Simon. He's one of my favorite guys and favorite players. He knows it," Ballard told reporters in a conference call on Sunday. "And that was tough. I mean, that was a hard decision."
With the Colts bringing in new coaching staff and switching from a 3-4 base defense to the 4-3 this offseason, that meant some possible carryovers from last season's Colts defense simply weren't going to be fits moving forward.
Ballard showed just how important those positional fits were to him early in the offseason, when the team decided not to heavily pursue Rashaan Melvin, its top cornerback in 2017, in free agency, and then released Johnahan Hankins, its top defensive lineman from a year ago.
Moving on from Simon proved to be much more difficult for Ballard, however. Despite the fact Simon, at 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, isn't exactly the ideal size for a 4-3 defensive end, it was hard to argue against his continued production in practices and in preseason games. In three preseason contests this year, Simon had four tackles (two for a loss) with 2.5 sacks and five total quarterback hits, mostly playing against opposing teams' starters.
But with Jabaal Sheard and Margus Hunt set to be starters to begin the season, that meant the younger pieces potentially behind Simon at the right defensive end spot might find themselves getting limited snaps, and, accordingly, limited opportunities to showcase what they can do.
So, ultimately, Ballard made the decision to move forward without Simon.
"That right end spot is a speed, get-off-the-ball position to make this defense work," Ballard said. "And between (Kemoko) Turay, who was injured but the flashes he showed over the last two preseason games — is he a finished product? No, he's not — but he fits the prototype of what we're looking for. And it's the same with (Tarell) Basham. We liked Basham coming out of college, he played right in, we liked what he brought out of college; inconsistent right now, but he's got the body type and the get-off and the things we want. We've just got to continue to develop and get better."
But just because Simon is no longer a member of the Colts, it doesn't mean he hasn't left a meaningful impact in Indianapolis.
"John Simon's a pro. He's a pro," Ballard said. "And John Simon's gonna go play and he's gonna play for somebody, and he's going to play his butt off. That's who he is. And don't sit there and think for a second that that one doesn't stick with me. But sometimes to get moving forward you've gotta make some of these tough decisions."