By Dan Wiederer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
MINNEAPOLIS — If you’re familiar with the eye-opening athleticism of wide receiver Jerome Simpson, perhaps it’s because at a gathering last Christmas Eve, you were taken aback when Fox delivered an “NFL Game Break” highlighting one of last season’s most spectacular touchdowns.
It came on a 19-yard reception, the play ending with Simpson, then playing for the Cincinnati Bengals, not only doing a Kerri Strug-like flip over Arizona’s Daryl Washington but sticking the landing, too.
Yep, the young receiver has obvious explosiveness.
Yet if you’re familiar with Simpson’s criminal record, perhaps you’ve read the details of the legal troubles he fell into last fall. The talented receiver was indicted on a felony drug charge after a package sent to his Kentucky home was intercepted with 2½ pounds of marijuana enclosed. A subsequent search of the house turned up an additional supply of marijuana, plus drug paraphernalia.
For Simpson, that legal misstep came to a head last month when he accepted a plea agreement to a lesser felony charge. He was sentenced to 15 days in jail plus three years of probation.
So yeah, without question, this young receiver comes with risk attached.
Still, on Tuesday, only two days before diving headfirst into the NFL draft, the Vikings agreed to a one-year deal with Simpson, landing a potential starter who might now be the team’s second-best receiver behind Percy Harvin.
Since free agency began in mid-March, the Vikings have been doing their research on Simpson, both impressed with his potential and aware of his baggage.
In this case, the promise seemed far greater than the risk, especially with all the glowing character reviews the Vikings front office and coaching staff received from all directions as they assessed Simpson’s recent troubles.
“Every person we talked to stood by the kid’s character,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said Tuesday. “Not standing by the mistake he made, but by what this kid’s character is. And we saw that when we brought him in here on a visit.”
Skill-wise, Simpson can be an immediate asset, a speed threat in an offense that needs an outside receiver with the ability to stretch the field. In Spielman’s words, Simpson is “a (genetic) freak-type athlete” who caught 50 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns for Cincinnati last season, continuing a breakthrough that began in the final month of 2010.
Character-wise? The Vikings feel incredibly comfortable on that front, too, confident in their look into Simpson’s personality and background.
Yes, the 26-year-old is fresh out of jail. And pending a potential appeal, he reportedly will face a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. But in the big picture, the Vikings noted Simpson’s positive energy and frequent charitable work and feel they’ll be able to keep him in line.
After all, Spielman said, the organization has succeeded in the past after rolling the dice on guys with questionable reputations, most notably by trading for Jared Allen in 2008 and drafting Harvin the following year.
“Did he make a mistake? No one’s going to say he didn’t make a mistake,” Spielman said of Simpson. “But I also think he has a chance to be one of those success stories.”
Spielman also recalled the Vikings’ interest in Simpson four years ago when he was a promising playmaker entering the draft out of Coastal Carolina. The Bengals plucked Simpson with the 46th pick that year.
Simpson, too, remembered his 2008 pre-draft visit to Winter Park and the positive vibes he felt after meeting with, among others, Spielman, Leslie Frazier and receivers coach George Stewart.
“Sometimes that leaves an impression on someone. ‘I remember those people. I remember what they’re about,’” Spielman said. “And that can come back and help you four years down the road.”
The hope now at Winter Park is that Simpson will help energize the passing attack, showcasing that promise without slipping into additional trouble.