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March 15, 2006
The End Of The Culpepper Era

An era of promise and disappointment came to a close yesterday in Eden Prairie as the Minnesota Vikings traded Daunte Culpepper to the Miami Dolphins. When Culpepper started seven years ago, he replaced Brad Johnson and now it looks like Brad Johnson will replace Culpepper for the 2006 season:

Chances are the smile returned to Culpepper's face Tuesday for the first time in months, when the Vikings quietly traded him to Miami for a second-round pick in next month's NFL draft. The move closed another dark chapter in the franchise's turbulent history, sending Culpepper to a plum destination and leaving the Vikings with little to show for their seven-year investment in a 29-year-old quarterback they believed would lead them into the next decade.

The Vikings confirmed Tuesday night that they will receive the Dolphins' No. 51 overall pick, three spots after their own second-round choice.

One of the most immediate problems leading to the trade was Daunte's insistence on renegotiating his contract despite having a disastrous season. In the first half of the season, Daunte threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns and renewed his penchant for fumbling the ball. He looked lost on the field until blowing out three of the four ligaments in his right knee in game 7, giving the Vikes a 2-5 start in which the entire team looked as though it had signed off for the year.

When Johnson returned, the Vikings looked like a different team. He may not have Culpepper's physical skills, but Johnson knows how to win, having done so with Tampa Bay all the way to the Super Bowl. He managed to go 7-2 with the same team Daunte led to a 2-5 record and almost made the playoffs.

Even after that, Daunte insisted on getting a raise from the Vikings despite having renegotiated his contract by holding out the previous summer. He publicly demanded more money and bailed out of a scheduled meeting with his new coach to emphasize his efforts. Culpepper also refused to rehab locally as the team requested so they could monitor his progress. In the end, Culpepper forced the trade, and it is a measure of his value that the best the Vikings could get for him was a second-round draft pick.

Culpepper has shown flashes of brilliance and has undeniable physical skills at quarterback. However, Culpepper has never protected the football well, fumbling and tossing interceptions at progressively higher rates. He also hasn't proven himself much of a field general. It isn't his effort -- he always plays hard -- but he doesn't have the chemistry, focus, or leadership to get the most out of his teammates and himself. In a way, it is reminiscent of Jeff George, another undeniably talented quarterback who couldn't make the Vikings click either. When Randy Cunningham took over for George after a poor start, he turned the team into a contender and then led them the next season to a 15-1 record and the NFC championship game. Culpepper reminds me of George, without the attitude problems.

Johnson will get his chance to emulate Cunningham in 2006, but the Vikings need to find a good QB in the next draft for their future. They could trade up for Leinart, Young, or Cutler, or they may try to find some hidden gem later in the draft, but they had better start working on the solution.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 15, 2006 5:29 AM

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