With Jerome Simpson potentially facing his second season-opening three-game suspension in three years, it’s worth asking the question: Why do the Vikings keep bothering with this guy anyhow?
It would be one thing if Simpson were a top-of-the-line receiver or even a consistently good one, but the deep stats on Simpson suggest he’s not even average. Football Outsiders ranked Simpson as just the 70th best receiver in the league last year using their defense-adjusted analysis, below such stalwarts as Brandon LaFell, Nate Burleson and Santonio Holmes.
When you combine all Simpson’s on-field deficiencies – his poor route running, inconsistent concentration and lack of genuine breakaway deep receiver speed – with his off-field problems, he begins to look like a questionable value even at a paltry $1 million for the season.
But despite the negatives the Vikings brought Simpson back really without much hesitation, handing him a contract just months after the DUI arrest that put him back on the NFL’s disciplinary to-do list. It’s enough to make you think Jerome Simpson must have some compromising photos of Rick Spielman in his possession.
In all seriousness, why the loyalty toward Simpson, a player who has provided only spotty production on the field while causing multiple PR headaches away from the gridiron? The answer is really kind of simple: What other choices did the Vikings have?
What were the Vikings going to do in the offseason, dip into that deep well of free agent talent and pluck themselves a new #3 receiver?
Should they have bid on former Packer James Jones, who ended up signing a three-year, $11 million deal with Oakland? Should they have gone after a bargain basement player like Hakeem Nicks, or Kenny Britt or Emmanuel Sanders?
The Vikings had three choices, really: overpay for an average-to-good receiver (a James Jones), draft a receiver in the first three rounds or take a one-year flier on an average-to-below-average player (a Nicks or a Sanders).
Last year’s Greg Jennings signing guaranteed that Rick Spielman was not going to shell out big money for a receiver. With the Vikings needing to address multiple positions in the draft, including QB, there was no chance of them using a high pick on a receiver either.
So, sifting through the names available for a reasonable amount of money on a short term deal, the Vikings found themselves looking at Jerome Simpson or someone else of comparable skill, and they decided to stick with Jerome.
The hope for Minnesota obviously was that someone would emerge in camp and push Simpson, possibly Jarius Wright who is an annual choice for potential breakout star. But here we are heading into the third preseason game and, despite some effective work from Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith, all indications are that Jerome Simpson is not being pushed very hard.
As mediocre as Jerome Simpson may be, the Vikings just can’t find anyone who does what he does better than he does it. Adam Thielen is a gritty, versatile player, but probably will do most of his damage underneath. Jarius Wright has shown up in flashes, and does have some deep potential, but can’t find consistency.
The newest highly-touted young Vikings receiver is Rodney Smith, a bigger target who looks the part of a Sidney Rice-type downfield threat. But despite Smith’s big catches late in the Arizona game, helping Teddy Bridgewater lead the Vikings to a comeback victory, you don’t get the feeling that Minnesota is yet ready to elevate Smith to a significant role and move on from Simpson.
It may be bothersome to a lot of fans, but Simpson remains a big part of the Vikings’ offensive plan. Something could still happen between now and the opener, but if you had to bet on it today, you’d bet on Simpson not only making the roster but being the #3 receiver once his suspension is served.
Maybe next year, the Vikings will find someone good enough to replace the below-average Simpson. It shouldn’t be this hard, you wouldn’t think.