COVINGTON, Ky. – Cincinnati Bengals receiver Jerome Simpson could receive a 60-day jail sentence after pleading guilty Thursday to a drug-related felony charge as part of an agreement with prosecutors, further clouding his future in the NFL.
A judge will decide next month whether to accept the prosecutors' recommendation or give him a more lenient sentence.
The four-year veteran is a free agent after completing his contract with the Bengals. His guilty plea could bring a suspension from the league, which would make him less attractive on the free agent market.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an email on Thursday that the case will be reviewed under the league's substance abuse policy.
Simpson wore a dark gray suit and stood with his hands in his pockets for a hearing Thursday in Kenton County Circuit Court aimed at concluding a case that has hung over him since September, when a package containing approximately 2 pounds of marijuana was delivered to his home in northern Kentucky.
The package had been tracked by agents from California. Authorities later searched Simpson's home and found approximately another pound of marijuana, county Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders said after the hearing on Thursday.
He was indicted on a felony charge of marijuana trafficking. The agreement changes the charge — still a Class D felony — to a prohibited act relating to controlled substances.
"I don't think Mr. Simpson deserves any special treatment one way or the other," Sanders said after the hearing. "He doesn't deserve any special breaks. He doesn't deserve any harsher punishment."
Judge Gregory Bartlett can accept the proposed 60-day jail term or reduce it at a sentencing hearing on April 5. Bartlett told Simpson that he wants a full disclosure of what happened in the case at the sentencing hearing.
Simpson and lawyer Burr Travis left the courtroom immediately after the hearing without any comment. Later, Travis said in a phone interview that he would present witnesses at the sentencing hearing.
"We're going to give the court and the commonwealth a different side of Jerome Simpson," Travis said. "The decision is strictly up to the judge."
The plea agreement also calls for three years' probation, 200 hours of community service and drug treatment. It allows for Simpson to be on a work-release program — leave jail during the day to work — but the judge will decide if that's appropriate.
It's unclear how a work-release program might apply to Simpson, who will officially become an unrestricted free agent later this month. If he hasn't signed with a team, he wouldn't have any football-related responsibilities to fulfill.
Sanders said a 60-day jail sentence would be appropriate.
"It's very consistent with what the judges in Kenton County impose," he said. "If anything, it might be a little stiffer than what most people get. A lot of folks that don't have a prior record and get convicted of the same crime get a straight probated sentence. So the addition of the 60 days, I think, is probably on the high end of average."
The agreement stipulates that there is no evidence Simpson was dealing marijuana. Sanders said Simpson had the marijuana for personal use and was probably sharing it with friends.
The judge asked Simpson a few questions about the deal, making sure he understood the ramifications. Asked if he had any questions about it, Simpson replied, "No sir, your honor."
The second-round draft pick from Coastal Carolina caught 53 passes for 758 yards and four touchdowns last season as a complement to rookie Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green. His grandest moment — a flip over a defender to score a touchdown — became a staple of NFL highlight films.
He did a heels-over-head flip over Arizona linebacker Daryl Washington at the goal line and landed on his feet in the end zone during a 23-16 win on Dec. 14. Simpson raised both arms in triumph, like a gymnast who had just stuck a landing.
Simpson is one of four Bengals either arrested or indicted since last July, along with linebacker Rey Maualuga, running back Cedric Benson and cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones.
Maualuga has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge resulting from an altercation at a downtown Cincinnati bar on Feb. 5. It's his second court case in two years. Maualuga pleaded guilty to drunken driving after police in northern Kentucky said he hit a parking meter and two parked cars in January 2010.
The NFL fined Maualuga two game checks and made him forfeit a two-week share of his signing bonus for violating its conduct policy with the drunken driving case. As a repeat offender under the policy, Maualuga could face a suspension next season, depending upon the outcome of his latest case.
Benson, who is a free agent and is unlikely to return to Cincinnati, was charged with misdemeanor assault last July for an altercation with a former roommate in Texas. He served five days in jail there before the start of the season, and was suspended for one game by the NFL.
Jones, who also is a free agent, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct for a disturbance at a downtown bar last July. He was sentenced to a year of probation and community service. Jones has repeatedly been suspended during his seven years with the league, and faces more discipline if he signs with a team.