Brees, Culpepper and the domino effect

New Orleans' euphoria might be much different today if a series of moves four years ago had ended differently. What if Daunte Culpepper hadn't gone to Miami and Drew Brees ended up there instead? The saga of the 2006 damaged-goods quarterbacks had a lot to do with Super Bowl history.

What a difference one key decision can make in the future of a coach, a player and a franchise. The year was 2006 and the career of Drew Brees was at a crossroads. In 2005, the San Diego Chargers were preparing to move ahead with Philip Rivers as their quarterback. The Chargers had drafted Eli Manning with the first pick in the draft, but, thanks to his dad, Eli wanted nothing to do with the Chargers organization. The Giants drafted Rivers with the expressed intent of trading him to San Diego. Two years had passed and it was time for a changing of the guard.

Not sure if Rivers was going to be ready and with Brees coming off the best season of his career, the Chargers franchised Brees in 2005 to hedge their bet. Brees started all 16 games in 2005 and led San Diego to the playoffs. However, in the playoffs, Brees suffered a career-threatening shoulder injury that put his future – both short-term and long-term – in jeopardy. He was allowed to become an unrestricted free agent, ending his tenure with the Chargers.

However, Brees didn't have teams lining up to sign him to a big contract. In fact, only two teams expressed genuine interest – Miami and New Orleans. Miami had a new head coach in Nick Saban and a new offensive coordinator in former Vikings assistant Scott Linehan. Saban was looking to make a big splash in the NFL and felt he needed a franchise quarterback. But, was an injured Brees going to be the answer?

At the same time, Brad Childress was making his first splash as the new Vikings head coach. One of his first executive decisions was deciding that Daunte Culpepper was potentially a divisive locker room influence who was standing up against authority. In short, he had to go. The Vikings tried peddling their own QB viewed by some as damaged goods.

As the battle for Brees boiled down to two teams, the Vikings got involved in the fray. Culpepper was offered up for a second-round draft pick and the Dolphins bit. They turned their back on Brees, reunited Pepp with Linehan, and Saban put his fledgling NFL coaching reputation in Culpepper's corner.

With the benefit of hindsight, the deal proved to be disastrous for the Dolphins. Culpepper, who rushed back from knee surgery, would play only four games with the Dolphins. Saban would quickly bail on the NFL for a college dream job and Brees wound up signing an incentive-laden deal with the Saints.

In the end, Culpepper became a mercenary, jumping from the Vikings to the Dolphins to the Raiders to the Lions in a four-year span. Saban essentially blackballed himself from the NFL after jumping ship with the Dolphins. The Vikings used that second-round draft pick on offensive lineman Ryan Cook, who has been mired on the bench for more than a year and the Saints locked down Brees, who led them to a Super Bowl championship Sunday.

Sometimes decisions look much better at the time they're made than they do with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. There are winners and losers for every trade, draft pick and free-agent signing. If not for the Dolphins concern about Brees' shoulder and the Vikings troubles with Culpepper, Brees likely wouldn't have ended up in New Orleans and, for all we know, the Saints could still be the Aints – and still without a Super Bowl championship.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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