EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings have taken steps toward adding free agent Jerome Simpson, the former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver with a felony drug conviction and what general manager Rick Spielman called “freak-type” athleticism.
Spielman confirmed Tuesday the interest in Simpson, who visited the team last week. Fox Sports first reported that Simpson has agreed to terms on a contract with the Vikings, but Spielman declined to acknowledge a deal.
Simpson was sentenced April 5 to 15 days in jail, three years of probation and 200 hours of community service plus a $7,500 fine and court costs. He pleaded guilty March 1 to a prohibited act relating to controlled substances. Authorities said they tracked a shipment of 2½ pounds of marijuana to his Kentucky home in September and that they found another pound of the drug inside the house.
“We did a lot of research. I think you guys know us well enough now that we have had success with guys with character issues that have come into this organization and have been very productive, not only on the field but as citizens,” Spielman said.
Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier invited a handful of players to have lunch with Simpson during his visit.
“Every person we talked to stood by the kid’s character. 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,” Spielman said.
ESPN reported, citing an unidentified NFL source, that Simpson will be suspended for three games under the league’s substance abuse policy. But even 13 games with Simpson would be a boost to the team’s depleted group of receivers. Percy Harvin had a career year, but he’s not an outside, stretch-the-field deep threat. Michael Jenkins is reliable, but he’s not a game-changing target.
Simpson played sparingly his first three seasons in the league after he was drafted in the second round out of Coastal Carolina, but last year was his breakout. He caught 50 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns, including the head-over-heels flip into the end zone on Christmas Eve that played on highlight clips all over the country. Simpson vaulted over an Arizona linebacker just in front of the goal line and landed on his feet in the end zone during Cincinnati’s victory that day.
“If we feel that comfortable enough that we think this kid has matured or learned from his mistakes regardless of who it is, then we’ll go ahead and say hey, ‘This guy deserves a second chance,'” Spielman said. “And to sit here and tell you that we’re going to be 100 percent right all the time, I’m not going to do that. But I know if we do bring a player in, the ownership understands and I think that the people in the building understand and you guys should understand that we did everything possible in our due diligence to make sure that we felt comfortable enough to sign a player.”
Simpson was initially indicted on a felony charge of marijuana trafficking, but his plea agreement changed the charge. At his sentencing in Kenton County Circuit Court in Kentucky, he told the judge he takes “full responsibility” for his actions and that he thinks the situation has made him “a better person.” Both the prosecutor and the judge in that case said that they didn’t believe Simpson was trafficking in marijuana but that it was for the use of him and probably his friends.
Notes: Harvin was scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery Tuesday to remove bone spurs from his shoulder, Spielman said. Harvin is expected to be ready in time for the first session of organized team activities starting May 29. … The Vikings have begun their offseason workout program at Winter Park, and Spielman said they have “pretty much 100 percent attendance.”
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