It is a situation that has been playing itself out in a semi-public way since the beginning of last season. Danny Simpson will be out of contract at the end of the current Premier League campaign, and there seems to be no real progress having been made towards a new deal. The 25 year-old has been the first-choice at right back for most of his stay on Tyneside, having 109 appearances since joining the club during their season in the Championship.
Playing out the end of a contract he signed as he had just celebrated his 23rd birthday following a reported £750,000 transfer from Manchester United, it is almost certain it was a club-friendly deal as the majority of his playing experience had come in the Belgian Second Division and the Championship. (Interesting note that I had either forgotten or did not know about Danny: He was part of the scum side that won the Championship in 2007, and then won promotion with NUFC in 2010.) Negotiations have been ongoing for a new contract for well over a year now, and as Danny Simpson is penned on the lineup card as long as he's healthy the hangup can't be related to playing time. The lid is being tightly kept on any numbers or offers for Danny's new contract, so it's hard to know, but we must assume that either a) the club are low-balling Simpson (possible), b) Danny and his representatives over-value him as a player (possible) or c) Danny and his representatives are looking for some sort of deal that will include compensation for the years he played at perceived bargain level price. As with many things, the truth probably lays somewhere roughly in the middle of that triangle.
As Simpson's contract gets closer and closer to expiring, it seems less and less likely that a deal will get done. If he does not stay with the club, what options will Alan Pardew have at the right back position?
If Ryan were healthy, we would likely just be in a place to whine about depth instead of looking at a definite need to bring in a player during the January window. He would potentially have been able to slot in directly at right back (although he looked awful during preseason at that position), or could step back in at left back and reform Jonas Raylor. Before you poo poo that idea, I take a brief moment to point out that during the first 9 matches last season (during which Ryan was at LB 100% of the time) the club had registered 4 shut outs and conceded about half as many goals as they have this year. This is all unlikely, however, as Ryan's knee injury v. Atromitos has put him out of consideration for the foreseeable future.
It has felt a lot like Alan Pardew would like to move Santon to RB anyway, so this isn't necessarily far-fetched. The difficulty with this is that it's a little bit of a robbing Peter to pay Paul kind of situation - filling the hole at RB creates one at LB. Within the current squad, it would seem that Pardew is much closer to trusting a potential young LB (Shane Ferguson) than a potential young RB (James Tavernier). Ferguson has been pushing for first-team consideration as the squad currently stands, so finding him a way onto the pitch could hardly be considered a bad thing. If Pardew views Fergie as a pure LM instead, the Santon Scenario would likely require a dip into the transfer market in January.
Newcastle United showed lasting interest in France international Mathieu Debuchy who is a true right back. He is probably an upgrade over Danny Simpson. He is also 27. 27 is at the top age range of Newcastle's current player recruitment philosophy - it would be counter to what we would assume to get older at a position at which the club are currently young. It certainly would not be out of the question, but the early season returns for the squad thus far indicate that we are probably a step further away from "arriving" than we perhaps thought we were at the end of last season. Granted we haven't played well at all and we're not pushing the drop zone, but we're not finding ways to win as well as we did during the unbeaten run at the beginning of last season, but it still seems likely that we need to have an overall stronger squad before we purposely get older at a position (at least in that mid-to-late 20s age range)... which brings me back around to Davide Santon.
If Santon goes to RB, and if Pardew and Llambias decide that the transfer market is the answer, a much more likely solution would be to bring Erik Pieters in at left back. At 24, the acquisition of Pieters would make the Toon collectively younger, which is always going to be an attractive proposition for the ownership. One would also assume that Pieters would be able to turn in performances of a comparable level to Davide Santon is currently. There is benefit and merit in this scenario - but it puts the club under the gun to get the deal done in January, which probably crushes the idea in its formative stage as that situation would put the club bargaining from the weak end of the situation. PSV would know this, and would be unlikely to give in to a lower transfer fee than they absolutely want.
What Will Likely Happen
There is still one player on the squad who could stop the gap at LB if Newcastle admit defeat and shift Danny in January in order to recoup some amount of a fee for a player who looks unlikely to sign a new deal (it has just occurred to me that this is the scenario under which I've written all of this - so if things haven't made sense to this point, add that in, and everything should focus in correctly). As he is currently on the squad and has been passed up on the depth chart at his preferred position by an 18 year-old, it seems as likely as not that Vurnon Anita will be that player to step in from the squad if it comes down to it. On the whole, Anita has looked out of his depth in the Premier League at his preferred CDM position. He has made a couple of appearances at right back this season and has looked considerably brighter. He seems capable and counter-intuitively provides much more to the team on the attacking end when positioned at RB. For the amount they payed for the Dutchman, it seems likely they will try everything to justify the fee - so if Simpson is sold in January, this looks like the most likely option.