Damn. One bad season and everyone is already writing you off. I think the Cowboys could get one hell of a deal if financial matters fell apart in Minnesota and Dallas traded or signed him after his release. Let him sit back, finish healing, while Bledsoe leads us again next year. I'd feel a lot more comfortable with Culpepper on the bench as an emergency and the inevitable future than I would with Romo and Henson.
Crunching Daunte's contract
Vikings could have financial decisions to make after QB's injury
BY SEAN JENSEN
The shock of Daunte Culpepper's season-ending knee injury still hasn't settled in for the Pro Bowl quarterback or his beleaguered team.
Culpepper has not made any public comments since learning he tore three ligaments in his right knee, keeping him out for at least the next six months.
The quarterback's uncertain status could give the Vikings one more delicate matter to deal with in what could be a tumultuous offseason.
As part of the original 10-year, $102 million contract Culpepper signed in May 2003, the quarterback is due a $2.5 million roster bonus in mid-March and a 2006 base salary of $2 million. But last August, in addition to receiving a $4 million signing bonus immediately, Culpepper was awarded an additional $3.5 million roster bonus due next March, according to NFL Players Association salary documents. That brings his 2006 compensation total to $8 million.
Unlike in the NBA and Major League Baseball, NFL contracts are not guaranteed, except for signing bonuses. The Vikings are not obligated to pay Culpepper any of the $8 million agreed to for next season, and they could release or trade him before those bonuses are due and accept a salary-cap charge for a player of Culpepper's caliber. The Vikings' accelerated salary-cap charge would be approximately $5.6 million, a net savings of $2.4 million.
The Vikings also could ask Culpepper to accept a pay cut.
Culpepper was not available for comment, and his agent, Mason Ashe, took exception to the timing of this report.
"There is no evidence that any of us have that he is not going to come back stronger than ever," Ashe said. "So there is no cause to pause or wonder what options are available because he's still the leader of this team and there's no reason why the team would do anything to change the course of the agreement in place."
Vikings vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski declined comment. Owner Zygi Wilf did not respond to an interview request.
Two prominent agents who represent some of the NFL's top quarterbacks and a former pro personnel director for the Dallas Cowboys expect the status quo in the Vikings' handling of Culpepper.
"It is a difficult dilemma because of the cap implications," said agent Leigh Steinberg, whose quarterback clients include Ben Roethlisberger and Mark Brunell. "But I think what is likely to occur is that the Vikings will rely on the best medical feedback they can get as close to the decision point as they can get it.
"Given how successful he's been in the past, unless that injury is judged to be career ending, it is very hard to find someone of his caliber. Surrendering his services would carry a real risk."
Agent David Dunn said circumstances of Culpepper's injury also must be considered.
"Being injured in the line of duty, in his case, trying to get the ball down the field for the good of the team, presents a tougher issue," said Dunn, who represents quarterbacks such as Drew Bledsoe, Jake Plummer, Carson Palmer and Matt Hasselbeck. "It doesn't mean that tough decisions won't be made. It just makes it tougher than if he were hurt bungee jumping."
Gil Brandt, the longtime director of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, said the team must be mindful of perception.
"They don't want to read or hear that Team A took advantage of poor so-and-so and shorted a player out of millions of dollars," Brandt said. "No one wants that kind of public relations problem."
Brandt, Dunn and Steinberg could not recall another instance in which a marquee quarterback suffered an injury that could potentially sideline him into — or beyond — the next season. Before they ended their partnership in 2000, Dunn and Steinberg represented Steve Young, who suffered a fifth concussion during the 1999 season.
"About this time of year, (Young) went down to Arizona and suffered a very bad concussion," Dunn recalled, "and there were question marks really over the next six or seven months until he retired. It's not this type of situation, but it's similar in that the team was struggling with the possibility of him not being back and dealing with that uncertainty."
Brandt says the New York Jets face a similar — albeit even more serious — situation with Chad Pennington. Last month, Pennington reinjured the right shoulder he had surgically repaired about eight months ago, casting doubt on his football future.
Pennington is due an $8.5 million roster bonus in March, and his salary-cap acceleration would be a whopping $12 million. Because Pennington signed an eight-year, $72.8 million contract in 2004 that included an $18 million signing bonus, the Jets might have taken out an insurance policy, as teams often do with lucrative deals, to protect themselves. Culpepper's deal, though, is not as costly as Pennington's, and former Vikings owner Red McCombs likely did not approve paying for an expensive insurance policy.
The Vikings must proceed cautiously. Culpepper likely would feel betrayed if the team asked him to accept a pay cut.
"Very often, when a player is asked to take a cut by the team, they'd rather take less money from another team because of the principle," Steinberg said. "(Players) can get irritated and prideful."
But if the Vikings sought to save salary-cap space, they could ask Culpepper and Ashe to turn his $6 million roster bonus into a signing bonus. That means Culpepper would get all of his money, but he would enable the Vikings to spread the salary-cap hit of his bonus over four seasons, saving them $4.5 million next year.
For most clubs, that would be an automatic request. But the Vikings have managed their salary cap so well they likely will not need the space.
Another option would be to trade Culpepper.
At the current pace, the Vikings are in line for a major offseason overhaul. If the team has a new coach and personnel director in place, they might not be inclined to put their 2006 preseason plans on hold as they wait for Culpepper to get healthy.
Like receiver Randy Moss last offseason, the Vikings could be tempted to pursue or solicit offers.
Several teams likely would be interested in Culpepper, especially since his contract, for a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, is relatively modest.
"It's difficult to pull off any trade, because it takes two to tango," Dunn said. "You have to get two teams to agree upon the right trade value on both sides. It's exacerbated when you're talking about a superstar."
But trading Culpepper could backfire, as did the Vikings' decision to trade for Herschel Walker. Steinberg said Culpepper is entering his prime, in spite of his obvious struggles this season.
"Someone who has developed as well as Culpepper has, even though he was having difficulty this year, it would be unlikely that he had simply lost his talent all of a sudden," Steinberg said. "I recall a situation a year ago, where our client, Mark Brunell, was universally panned as someone who had lost his talent.
"And yet, with a few simple adjustments in the blocking scheme and him not being injured, he's among the leaders in quarterback rating. Daunte Culpepper is a potential all-pro quarterback, and he's still relatively young. They could have him another 10 years."
Brandt said returning to form after tearing three ligaments is not a given. But he adds the Vikings are gambling on Culpepper.
"There are certain players you know are going to do everything possible to get back," Brandt said. "That's where you have a feel for a person, and I think Culpepper is a quality guy and the kind of guy that would work and get himself back."