For Colts, cut day included releasing DE John Simon, trading for WR Marcus Johnson

Carlos Hyde #28 of the San Francisco 49ers runs past John Simon #51 of the Indianapolis Colts during the first quarter of the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The cuts were deep and involved more than a few surprises. And keep in mind, the Indianapolis Colts aren’t done, yet.

In reaching the NFL-mandated roster limit of 53 – moves were made that impacted 37 players – general manager Chris Ballard released a veteran defensive presence who had been one of the unit’s more productive players and acquired a wide receiver through a trade whose roots are intertwined with first-year head coach Frank Reich.

The veteran defender: end John Simon. His contract was terminated, saving the team his $3 million base salary. Simon moved from outside linebacker in last year’s 3-4 defense to end in the current 4-3. Despite being an odd fit – he hadn’t played end since his college days at Ohio State – Simon continued to make plays.

A source confirmed the Colts sought a trade for Simon, but nothing materialized.

The new wideout: Marcus Johnson, acquired in a trade with Seattle that saw the Seahawks receive tight end Darrell Daniels. Johnson spent 2017, his rookie season, with the Philadelphia Eagles, whose offensive coordinator was Reich.  In 10 games a year ago, the 6-1, 204-pound Johnson caught five passes for 45 yards.

A few roster tidbits:

  • 11 rookies made the cut, including nine of Ballard’s 11 draft picks. The exceptions: sixth-round pick Deon Cain, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during the preseason, and fifth-rounder Reece Fountain, who might return on the practice squad.
  • Ballard’s first two drafts have included 19 players. Sixteen are still around. The exceptions: Cain, Fountain and offensive tackle Zach Banner, a 2017 fourth rounder.
  • The Colts’ extended their active streak to 20 of having at least one undrafted rookie make the cut. Congrats, linebacker Skai Moore and safety George Odom.
  • Only 16 players (including suspended running back Robert Turbin) were on the active roster the last time quarterback Andrew Luck was under center. That was Jan. 1, 2017. That’s a massive roster turnover even by NFL standards.
  • The youth movement by Ballard and Reich is producing the desired results. The roster features Adam Vinatieri, the NFL’s oldest active player at 45. But there are only five others who reside in the 30-something neighborhood: Matt Slauson (32), Al Woods (31), Margus Hunt (31), Anthony Castonzo (30) and J’Marcus Webb (30.

Players residing at the bottom end of the 53 are advised to get a good night’s sleep. They undoubtedly face an uncertain Sunday as Ballard and his personnel staff are scouring the waiver wire for upgrades at several positions. Ballard was awarded five waived players last year.

A position-by-position look at the makeup of the roster:

REGULAR-SEASON ROSTER

(Subject to change)

(* – denotes rookie)

OFFENSE (24)

Quarterback (2): Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett.

Comment: Not certain we agree with company line the Colts possess two of the top 20 QBs in the NFL, but Luck and Brissett are a solid tandem. We should expect Phillip Walker back for the practice squad.

Running back (4): Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines*, Jordan Wilkins*, Christine Michael. (Robert Turbin suspended for first four games of season).

Comment: The impact of Turbin’s month-long suspension can’t be overstated. Mack’s hamstring injury further complicates things. Michael has started nine of 37 games and has 1,080 rushing yards and 7 TDs in his career.

Wide receiver (5): T.Y. Hilton, Chester Rogers, Ryan Grant, Zach Pascal, Marcus Johnson.

Comment: Pascal’s versatility – offense and special teams – was too strong to overlook. The trade for Johnson booted fifth-round pick Reece Fountain, who’s a good candidate for the practice squad.

Tight end (3): Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Erik Swoope.

Comment: We expected Ballard to keep four, but Ross Travis’ knee injury and sending Darrell Daniels to Seattle changed that. Might he find a fourth on the waiver wire? Preferably one whose expertise is blocking.

Offensive line (10): T Anthony Castonzo, C Ryan Kelly, G Quenton Nelson*, G Matt Slauson, G Braden Smith *, T/G Joe Haeg, T Le’Raven Clark, T Denzelle Good, T J’Marcus Webb, G/C Mark Glowinski.

Comment: This is how we had it lined up, with the exception of the decision to keep Glowinski. The biggest concerns: 1) will Castonzo is ready for the Sept. 9 opener? 2) has Haeg has earned the starting right tackle spot? and 3) how long before Good is ready to go (injured left knee)?

 

DEFENSE (26)

Line (10): E Jabaal Sheard, E Kemoko Turay*, E Ryan Delaire, T Al Woods, T Tyquan Lewis*, E Tarell Basham, T Denico Autry, E Margus Hunt, T Hassan Ridgeway, Grover Stewart.

Comment: OK, we’re more than a little surprised by John Simon’s release. He wasn’t a good fit in coordinator Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 – he’s an outside ‘backer – but Simon was one of those guys who simply made plays. He would have been an invaluable influence on the young D-linemen. Somebody – somebody – has to emerge as a bona fide, consistent pass-rush threat. We’re looking at you, Turay and Basham. Maybe you, too, Delaire.

Linebacker (6): Darius Leonard*, Najee Goode, Skai Moore*, Anthony Walker, Matthew Adams*, Zaire Franklin*.

Comment: You want young? Four of the six are rookies. Walker is heading into his second season. Goode has appeared in 64 games, but only four as a starter. Yikes. Leonard has given every indication he’ll be a difference maker.

Cornerback (6): Pierre Desir, Kenny Moore II, Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston, Chris Milton, Lenzy Pipkins.

Comment: More injury concerns with Wilson (hand) and Hairston (hamstring). Desir and Moore probably are the opening-day starters.

Safety (4): Malik Hooker, Clayton Geathers, Matthias Farley, George Odom*.

Comment: A strength of the roster, even with Green’s departure.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS (3)

Kicker: Adam Vinatieri.

Punter: Rigoberto Sanchez.

Longsnapper: Luke Rhodes.

Comment: None needed.

 

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.