For the past two offseasons, Jerome Simpson has been left to wonder what his future holds as an NFL free agent with a troubled past.
In 2012, Simpson was dealing with felony drug charges. The Minnesota Vikings stepped in and took a chance on the enigmatic wide receiver. Simpson’s first season in Minnesota was set-back by injuries and he again entered free agency. The Vikings again called on Simpson and he returned.
Simpson is hoping the third time is a charm.
A free agent for the third straight offseason, Simpson would like to return to Minnesota. The Vikings have remained open-minded about bringing back their second-leading receiver from last season.
"Yeah, I’d love to be back," Simpson said in February.
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman and new coach Mike Zimmer have stuck by the mantra "we’d love to have all our guys back." The saying is an offseason staple, knowing full-well it’s unlikely all of the Vikings free agents will return. And for a team that went 5-10-1, Minnesota needs change.
But those changes are most likely to occur on defense. Offensively, the Vikings ranked 13th in yards and 14th in points despite inconsistency at quarterback. Simpson had 48 catches, just two behind his career high, and a career-best 726 receiving yards last season.
Few offensive changes, aside from quarterback, are expected. Simpson, 28, could find his way back to the team who gave him a chance two years ago.
"If Jerome wants to come back, he wants to be here and he feels like it’s a good fit, then he’d be more than welcome to come back," Zimmer told reporters Thursday. "We want guys who want to be here, and guys that obviously are good football players, but if they don’t want to be here, then they don’t want to be here."
Simpson’s heart — at least before hearing what other teams have to say with free agency talks — is in Minnesota. The coaching changes haven’t affected Simpson’s feelings in wanting to return.
Simpson knows Zimmer from their time together in Cincinnati. Simpson is also excited about the possibilities with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, whose deep-passing game would seem to fit Simpson’s strengths.
"It fits what I like to do," Simpson said. "I was happy that we got him. He can use these weapons on our team because we definitely have the weapons on this team to win a Super Bowl or win a lot of games. Hopefully we’ll be utilized and we can make an impact and make plays."
Minnesota is in a better spot at receiver now than when it first took a chance on Simpson in 2012, having added Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jarius Wright since Simpson arrived. Simpson’s role changed last year too.
After being limited to 26 catches and 274 yards in his first season with the Vikings, Simpson had 23 catches in the first five weeks last season, including two games with more than 100 yards receiving. He had 25 catches the rest of the way but still proved valuable.
He made several important catches, such as a 20-yard catch on fourth-and-11 in a December win against the Chicago Bears and scored the first touchdown of his tenure with Minnesota a week later.
"I feel good in my game," Simpson said. "I still feel good and confident. My body feels great. I just try to let my play talk for itself and hopefully I’ll be back here because I love this environment around here and the people and I’ll still love to make plays for this team."
Simpson will be able to negotiate with any team beginning Saturday at 11 a.m. CT, and able to sign anywhere when the new league year begins on Tuesday, March 11 at 3 p.m. Coming back to the Vikings would likely mean another smaller deal and accepting a role like he had late in the season where he was behind Jennings and Patterson, and sometimes even Wright.
Simpson also has to account for another legal run-in from being arrested and charged with DWI in November.
He said he’s staying relaxed when it comes to free agency and his unknown future.
"I don’t worry about it," Simpson said. "I’m a veteran in this game. Things going to work itself out, so I just take it one day at a time and just keep moving, just trying to stay positive all the time."