NFL Greats Expect Big Things From Culpepper

From Phil Simms to Dan Marino to Deion Sanders to Boomer Esiason, the experts think Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper is ready to live up to his hefty contract extension.

Daunte Culpepper turned some heads when he received his lofty contract extension this spring, but players who know — those who have been there, done that in the NFL — think he could have a breakout year.

Former Giants quarterback Phil Simms: "Daunte Culpepper struggled at times last year, but he had a terrific preseason. I think he's a modern-day version of Steve McNair. He's the same type of player and can do a little bit of everything. He seems to have a charisma that players like to be around."

The feeling is that Culpepper will improve on last season's performance when he threw 23 interceptions and fumbled 23 times, losing nine of them. The low point came in the Vikings' loss to the New York Giants on Nov. 10 when Culpepper was benched.

However, Culpepper's play improved — as did the performance of the entire team — while the season progressed, and he was rewarded with a 10-year, $102 million contract in the spring. The deal, which will start with next season after Culpepper's original five-year contract expires, has $16 million guaranteed.

"They gave him a lot of bonus money, but the way I look at it, it's simple," said Simms, CBS' lead game analyst. "He's a franchise quarterback, and who are you going to go out there and get who can do what he can? He throws the ball very well and has size. If I was a head coach in this league, I would feel really good if I knew I had to stake my future and job in him as a quarterback. You can fix the decision making by a quarterback, but not a lack of talent."

Dan Marino, the former Dolphins great who now spends his Sundays in the CBS studio, also is a Culpepper fan.

"As I look around the league, he has as much talent as anybody, moving out of the pocket, making throws across his body. The biggest question mark is him making mistakes," Marino said. "As time goes on, guys get more comfortable and understand the game more. I think Daunte will continue to grow and make better decisions."

ESPN's Joe Theismann feels the lack of the much-talked-about Randy Ratio — an idea head coach Mike Tice came up with last season to have Culpepper direct 40 percent of his passes at Randy Moss — will help Culpepper.

"He put that thought in Daunte's head and it screwed him up for the first half of the season," Theismann said. "You haven't heard that this year. Now, you have a more mature quarterback, who is conscious of what the team needs to be successful. He has a coach who has come in and challenged him to be better. From what I gather, he has responded to that. This year I think Daunte will step up like McNair did a few years ago to make the leap to the next level. He has a chance to assert himself, and I think he has the ability."

CBS' Deion Sanders, who also wasn't a fan of the Randy Ratio, said Culpepper's big contract can do one of two things. "Paying the guy this money could relax him and he could say, ‘I have the money and don't have to prove anything,'" Sanders said. "Or he could say, ‘I have to live up to the contract,' and then apply a lot of pressure on himself. … But I think Daunte Culpepper should bounce back and have a great year."

While former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, who is a studio analyst for CBS, likes Culpepper, he feels the Vikings might have been a bit too generous.

"I was shocked the Vikings gave him that contract extension because of the number of turnovers that were caused directly as a result of his decision-making," Esiason said. "I thought it was a gutsy move on their part to extend his contract. I do expect him to come back and have a good year."

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