SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The 49ers have added athleticism to their receiving corps.
The team announced Thursday it signed Jerome Simpson to a two-year contract, following a tumultuous run of off-the-field issues during stops in Cincinnati and Minnesota.
Simpson might be most famous for his perfect flip and landing into the end zone in a game against the Cardinals in 2011.
But Simpson did not play in the NFL in 2014 after getting released from the Vikings following a three-game suspension stemming from his third run in with the law since 2012.
In January of 2012, Simpson was arrested when police seized a 2.5 package of marijuana addressed to his home. In November 2013, he was arrested on suspicion of DWI before pleading guilty to careless driving. And in the following summer, he was charged a misdemeanor for having an open bottle and marijuana in his vehicle while driving on a suspended license.
Simpson, 29, was drafted in the second round out of Coastal Carolina University with the Bengals' 46th-overall pick in 2008. During his four seasons with Cincinnati, he averaged 14.1 yards per catch, notching 1,004 yards on 71 receptions and seven touchdowns.
He went on to the Vikings in 2012, where he made 18 starts while appearing in 28 games, and was released before he could start his third season with the club after it learned of his charges from the previous summer resulting in his three-game suspension.
With Michael Crabtree set to hit free agency March 10, the 49ers will be in the market for receivers both in free agency and in the upcoming draft, potentially with an early-round pick.
San Francisco lacked a consistent deep threat for Colin Kaepernick in 2014 while tight end Vernon Davis had one of his worst seasons of his career. The team brought in 33-year-old Brandon Lloyd, but he managed just 14 catches for 294 yards last season. Lloyd enters free agency next week and appears unlikely to rejoin the 49ers after he was initially brought in by former offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Simpson will compete for a role on offense with younger players Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington, who were each fourth-round picks in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Starter Anquan Boldin is under contract for one more season with a $6 million salary.
The 49ers, who led the NFL in arrests during former head coach Jim Harbaugh's tenure, will have to answer questions regarding Simpson's past. Team CEO Jed York cited not "winning with class" during Harbaugh's time with San Francisco as part of the reason for his departure.
"Our mission is very simple: the San Francisco 49ers win with class," York said in December. "We haven’t won, and I don’t think we’ve conducted ourselves with the level of class that I expect of our organization. We’ve had off-the-field issues. That’s going to happen in sports. The level that it’s happened here is not unacceptable."
If Simpson can stay out of trouble, he could contribute his length and athleticism to the 49ers' offense as a third or fourth receiver in new coordinator Geep Chryst's offense.