The competition for the San Francisco 49ers’ number three receiver just got a little less crowded-at least for the first six games of the regular season.
Wide receiver Jerome Simpson was handed a six-game suspension from the NFL on Tuesday for violating the league’s substance abuse policy dating back to incidents prior to his signing with the 49ers.
The news came as no surprise to general manager Trent Baalke, who stated that the organization was aware of the risk associated with signing Simpson over the offseason.
“The probability of a suspension was known when we signed Jerome. Since joining the 49ers, Jerome has proven to be a great teammate. Although he will not be able to participate in the first six weeks of the season, Jerome has done everything asked of him, both on and off the field. We are in full support of the NFL’s decision, and look forward to Jerome’s future contributions to our organization.”
Simpson, a former second-round pick in the 2008 draft, was considered a likely candidate to claim the No. 3 job behind fellow wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. The 6-foot-2 receiver hauled in a team-high 31 yards on two receptions, while sharing a team high three targets with the departed TE Asante Cleveland in Saturday’s preseason loss to the Texans.
The suspension will not affect Simpson’s ability to partake in any preseason practices or games, offering the veteran receiver a chance to continue to fight for playing time when his suspension is lifted following the team’s October 18 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.
Simpson’s inability to produce early in the season leaves the door open for a younger group of wide receivers fighting for playing time, such as Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, and DeAndrew White.
Patton received first-team reps with the 49ers during Saturday’s game when the team went to a nickel formation, and appears to be leading the pack for playing time at the moment. Ellington, on the other hand, has been hampered by a leg injury during most of training camp, hurting his stock in the race.
However, a dark horse in the receiver race is undrafted free agent DeAndrew White, whose speed and athleticism has certainly caught the attention of the coaching staff this offseason.
Although White’s ability to play special teams appears to be his ticket to the 53-man roster at this moment, the speedy receiver from Alabama continues to make his case for a role on offense with highlight reel catches in camp. White was targeted just twice in Saturday’s game, catching one pass for three yards.
The 49ers signed Simpson to a modest, 2-year, $1.73 million contract this offseason, taking a risk on a player with a history of off-the-field issues. In 2011, the receiver pleaded guilty to felony charges after receiving two pounds of marijuana at his home in Kentucky. Simpson again ran afoul with the law in 2013 after being stopped on suspicion of a DUI. Simpson’s latest trouble came in July of last year after being cited for marijuana possession, driving with an open container, and violating the restrictions of a suspended license.
Simpson’s third, and most current suspension, leaves the 49ers slightly thinner at wide receiver to start the 2015 season off. However, if the 29-year old can stay out of trouble from here on out, his modest $865,000 annual salary can be an asset to the 49ers in the future.