EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Free agent receiver Jerome Simpson was released from jail last Friday after serving a 15-day sentence in connection with a felony drug conviction. By mid-day Saturday, Simpson was in the Twin Cities, visiting with Minnesota Vikings officials and having lunch with several officials. By Tuesday, Simpson and the Vikings had agreed to a one-year contract, according to multiple reports.
Speaking Tuesday at a news conference to discuss this week's NFL draft, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman refused to confirm the deal, because the contract has not yet been signed. But Spielman made clear his pursuit of Simpson was not a whirlwind affair, but instead dated back four years, when the Vikings targeted him as a high priority in the 2008 draft, and said the organization did exhaustive research on Simpson before bringing him in for last weekend's visit.
Spielman also cited previous decisions to bring in players with "character issues," from defensive end Jared Allen to receiver Percy Harvin, that have been "very productive, not only on the field but as citizens."
Spielman added: "We do our due diligence. I've talked to a lot of people. [Coach] Leslie Frazier has talked to a lot of people. We've had a lot of people in this organization reach out to a lot of different avenues besides inside the NFL, things that are outside the NFL, and that's why we brought him in. If we didn't feel comfortable enough with all the information that we have gathered, we probably wouldn't have had him in on a visit.
"But we felt comfortable enough ... that we brought him on a visit. [We had] very direct conversations and felt very strongly [about] Jerome Simpson. ... Did he make a mistake? No one is going to say he didn’t make a mistake, but [we] also think he has a chance to be one of those success stories as well."
There are three important points to be made here.
First, there is no use getting caught up in why the Vikings were willing to sign a player whose crime included having more than two pounds of marijuana delivered to his house. The reality is good players routinely get second and sometimes third chances in the NFL, and Simpson is most definitely a good player who probably qualifies as the Vikings' second-best receiver after Harvin.
Second, the Vikings have made little commitment here from a financial standpoint. Simpson has been suspended for the first three games of the 2012 season, and he isn't in position to make many demands. So the Vikings got a starting-caliber receiver at a bargain price with little financial repercussions if it doesn't work out. You could argue that their reputation would take a hit if Simpson runs into more trouble, but if public perception was this organization's top priority, it would have released cornerback Chris Cook long before he went to trial this winter on a domestic charge. (Cook was eventually acquitted of all charges.)
Third, I don't think signing Simpson should impact your thoughts about who the Vikings will draft at either No. 3 overall, or even in the second or third round. Although Spielman continued to insist that Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon is one of three possible picks at No. 3, I don't believe him. The Vikings don't seem likely to draft Blackmon with or without Simpson, and it's difficult to believe anyone would alter their draft board based on the arrival of a receiver who is probably one incident away from a year-long NFL suspension.
In the end, there is minimal risk here, and a potentially decent reward. Time will tell.