While general manager Rick Spielman said he couldn't discuss anything official with Simpson because the contract hasn't been signed yet, he said that the Vikings did their homework with Simpson's character and standing with the league. Simpson will be suspended the first three games of the 2012 season, pending an appeal, but the Vikings have agreed to a one-year contract.
"I can tell you on Jerome that we did a lot of research," Spielman said. "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. We do our due diligence. I've talked to a lot of people. 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."
Had those reports come in badly, the Vikings likely wouldn't have signed Simpson. But, with the knowledge that his suspension would be just three games and others vouching for him, the team felt at ease with the information they gathered about Simpson's character.
"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," Spielman said. "But we felt comfortable enough with that we brought him on a visit. (Had) very direct conversations and felt very strongly that Jerome Simpson – did he make a mistake, no one is going to say he didn't make a mistake – but also think he has a chance to be one of those success stories as well."
Simpson blossomed into a playmaker last year after three nondescript seasons. In his first two seasons, he played in just eight games, catching one pass for two yards. He appeared to be on the brink of a breakout season in 2010, catching 20 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns in his final three games, including a 12-catch, 123-yard performance in the regular-season finale.
Simpson became a full-time starter in 2011 and caught 50 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns, highlighted by an amazing 360-degree flip for a touchdown late in the season that made all the highlight shows over and over again and put Simpson on the map. Spielman said the Vikings had an interest in Simpson as far back as the 2008 draft, but didn't have the opportunity for him until now.
"He really came into his own this year," Spielman said. "He is a (genetic) freak type athlete. We were very interested in him when he came out of Coastal Carolina in 2008. He was here on a top-30 visit. It's funny, you don't think of it at the time, when you bring in all these players. The one thing he remembered was coming here on a top-30 visit, he remembered George Stewart, remembered meeting with myself, remembered meeting with Leslie even though he wasn't the head coach at the time. Sometimes that leaves an impression on someone that ‘Hey, I remember those people, I remember what they are about.' That can come back and help you out four years down the road like in this instance."
Simpson's arrest on felony marijuana possession and subsequent guilty plea have left some wondering if he is a potential problem for the organization. Spielman said signing high-character players remains a hallmark of the Vikings policy in both the draft and in free-agent signings and said that players – Simpson or anyone else – must pass the organizational smell test.
"It's very subjective," Spielman said. "I know from ownership, the Wilf family, we want to bring in solid people and solid citizens and we want the people and the players that we bring into this organization to represent the Minnesota Vikings because we're representing the fans and our community. There will be guys in this year's draft just like there have been in the past that are very highly-rated players, that, after doing all our research through Senior Bowl, through the Combine, through interviews, we will not bring those players in. But if we feel 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.' 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 (the media and fans) should understand that we did everything possible in our due diligence to make sure that we felt comfortable enough to sign a player."
Simpson will come to the Vikings with some baggage, but the Vikings are convinced that he has learned from his brush with the law and that he is ready to commit to being a contributing member of the Vikings lineup. He has the chance to compete for a starting job and, at the same time, perhaps lighten the urgency for the Vikings to take a wide receiver early in this week's draft.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.