Daunte Culpepper has learned a lot in his time as a Viking. One of those things is if you want out, simply make yourself such a pain in the butt that the team lets you go. Many players have done it in the past, one of the most recent being cornerback Denard Walker -- who was upset by being demoted with the signing of Antoine Winfield and through his agent insisted on being moved. But neither Walker nor any of the other disgruntled former Vikings were viewed as franchise guys.
Culpepper's recent behavior is more in keeping with a frustrated child than a true professional and team leader. He headed into last season ready to prove that he could succeed without Randy Moss. He didn't even come close -- throwing twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. He went 2-5 in the games he started, while Brad Johnson went 7-2. As the season wore on, he reverted to the Culpepper of 2001 and 2002 -- a player who struggled under the Randy Ratio, throwing interceptions on ill-advised pass forced into coverage.
There were many contributing factors to Culpepper's regression in 2005 -- ranging from the loss of Moss and Matt Birk to Scott Linehan leaving and forcing the Vikings offense to become a committee approach with both Mike Tice and Steve Loney taking on play-calling duties as well as working first and foremost with a struggling offensive line. It was a recipe for disaster that came back to haunt Culpepper.
Since his devastating knee injury, Culpepper hasn't been on the sidelines cheering on his teammates -- which you would expect from a true leader of a team. He hasn't rehabilitated his knee in Minnesota. He hasn't even met face to face with his new coach. Oh yeah, he also wants a raise on top of his $6 million bonus approved last year when Zygi Wilf bought the team.
Culpepper lost a big national ad campaign following the boat scandal last October and has done nothing since to warrant being a media spokesman or the face of the franchise. If Culpepper's hope is to get traded, he may want to think again. His value is as low as it's ever going to be due to the uncertainty of when he will return and how much his game will be forcibly changed from the free-wheeling style he had pre-injury. The Vikings may not trade him simply because they won't get enough in return.
Franchise quarterbacks are a hot commodity for all teams and, once you get one, most teams are unwilling to let them go. If he does come back, he's done all he can to alienate his teammates. While holdouts and contract squabbles are a part of the game since very few NFL contracts have guaranteed money written into them, Culpepper's recent silence has been troubling to both ownership and fans. In a recent interview, Wilf said that there will be a quarterback competition next summer if Culpepper is healthy enough to play -- not conceding that the job is automatically his. He sent a letter to the ownership group earlier this month saying he wanted to meet with them to discuss re-working his contract.
How nervous were the Vikings front office people? Only Rob Brzezinski showed up and he essentially told Culpepper that the team isn't going to change his contract at this time because there are too many variables concerning his knee injury. The result was that a subsequent face to face meeting with Brad Childress was nixed by Pepp and the two of them met only over the phone -- in a conversation that apparently didn't have either man all too happy about the results.
Culpepper's plan backfired badly and he was left with egg on his face and has people questioning his rationale and timing of such a contract demand. This time Culpepper shot himself in the foot instead of tearing up his knee.
There is plenty of time for the two sides to mend their fences. Culpepper is a professional and there's no questioning his ability. But, at a time when his career is at a crossroads, he's not giving the impression of a leader -- the guy who sets the example for the other players. It's always a slippery slope when a player signs a long-term contract. More times than not, the final years of the 10-year, $100 million contracts are never met. One need look no farther than Tennessee's Steve McNair, who is slated to get a $50 million roster bonus in a month. Think that's going to happen? Not a chance.
From the Vikings' side of things, it makes sense not to renegotiate the deal they already have signed. In all, Wilf agreed to increase the guaranteed money portion of his contract by $7.5 million -- $1.5 million added to his base salary in 2005 and a $6 million bonus he's due March 14. When asked about the bonus, Wilf has maintained that Culpepper will get his money.
At a time when the Vikings are in transition, the one point that Childress has stressed is team first, team second and team always. When one player separates himself from the team -- much less your franchise player -- it can be the cause of dissention that isn't needed.
There is a school of thought that says when Culpepper signed his contract, he accepted less money that he might have seen in the open market because the Vikings also had to lock up Moss to a long-term deal. When Moss got traded, the fat portion of his contract went with him to the Raiders. It's uncertain if promises had been made to Culpepper or his agent that, in the event Moss would go, Pepp's contract would be revisited and increased. If that's the case, he has a valid argument, but Wilf and ownership have showed at least a sign of good faith in trying to keep Culpepper happy.
The biggest problem is that none of us really know where Culpepper stands on the issue. He hasn't been around Winter Park much since his injury and hasn't returned phone calls from media members looking for answers. It's not the type of situation that harbors good will with the owners, the new coaching staff or the fans. All any of them are really hoping for is that Culpepper will speak out and let them know how his rehabilitation is going and that he's ready to come back stronger than ever and lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl.
We haven't heard that yet...and maybe we won't.
Commentary: Culpepper On the Way Out?
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