Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 5/3/12
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Sitting in jail for 15 days in April, wide receiver Jerome Simpson's faith never wavered. He always believed he would be able to resume his NFL career. The former Cincinnati Bengals starter had pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge. His first professional contract had expired, and he was a free agent with a criminal record. Cincinnati, long known as a team willing to look past legal issues, wasn't re-signing their second-round pick from the 2008 draft. Surely, without legal entanglements, teams would have been calling for Simpson, who is coming off his best NFL season with 50 catches for 725 yards and four touchdowns. But Simpson was still without a team more than a month after free agency began. Then the Minnesota Vikings came calling. Minnesota remembered its predraft visits with the receiver, when he was a highly regarded prospect out of small-school Coastal Carolina. On April 21, the Vikings brought Simpson to Minnesota, interested in signing him to help out their under-productive wide receiver unit. But first Simpson, 26, had to prove he wasn't going to be a problem. He met with team officials, including general manager Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier, at Winter Park. He stayed in Minnesota for a few days and went to lunch with several players. Minnesota also conducted a background check, talking with several people who know the Simpson. "Every team's just going to do that background check and see, 'Was this guy really like this?' And everybody knew that that wasn't me," Simpson said. "It's just the character. Everybody knows that that wasn't my character, what happened, and it's basically just, 'Prove it.' You can talk all you want to, but if you don't prove it, it really doesn't mean a hill of beans." Satisfied with what they saw, the Vikings signed Simpson to a "Prove it" deal, a one-year, 2 million contract to be the deep, outside speed receiver they've lacked. Simpson sees the opportunity with Minnesota as the ultimate second chance. "Yes, it is because this organization, they believed in me and I'm just blessed to have the opportunity to come back and play football again," Simpson said. Simpson was dealt a three-game suspension by the league for his drug charge. In September, he was indicted for marijuana trafficking after receiving a shipment of about two pounds of marijuana at his home in Kentucky. In a plea agreement, the case was reduced to a prohibited act relating to controlled substances and Simpson had to spend 15 days in jail. "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, so far, is doing his part to make sure he has success with his second chance. He's been a part of all the team's voluntary workouts and has also been playing catch with quarterback Christian Ponder on the side. Simpson, 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, could be the perfect complement to middle-of-the-field receiver Percy Harvin and tight ends Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson in the Vikings' offense. Simpson was a regular on NFL highlight videos last season after he jumped high in the air and flipped head-over-feet over a defender to score a touchdown. It was just one example of his athletic ability. "The guy's unbelievable," Ponder said. "I was throwing post routes, trying to overthrow him, and I couldn't. The guy's so fast, and he's so athletic. I think he's going to be a great asset to our 'X' position, and he's a great guy. I've been hanging out with him, and he's so down to earth. He's so athletic, and we're happy for him to be a part of this team." Simpson says it's been an "up-and-down" seven months since he was charged. He doesn't plan to appeal his three-game suspension, saying he just has to, "accept it right now." "It was about what was expected with what I went through," Simpson said. "I'm just happy that it was just three games and I get to get back on the field pretty quick." Just in time for Simpson to reward the team that gave him another chance at an NFL future. He isn't worried right now about what role he will have with Minnesota. He's happy to have any role. "Whatever role that this team has for me, I'm going to fulfill it and go above and beyond," Simpson said. "It's absolutely a 'prove it' (season) just because the nature of that I did get in trouble last year and I have to prove to the league, myself and everybody else out there that I deserve to be in this league. And I deserve to be in this league." Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.
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