Jim Souhan: Vikings may regret trading Culpepper yet

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 10, 2007 - 8:40 AM

Some NFC North team could have itself a pretty fair quarterback eventually, given the right support.

Vikings coach Brad Childress' assessment of Daunte Culpepper has been vindicated. Childress questioned the wisdom of Culpepper rehabilitating his knee away from the team, questioned his willingness to buy into a new program without being bribed into cooperation, and traded him for a second-round draft pick two springs ago.

That might stand as Childress' best decision as a head coach, because Culpepper has been either injured or inept since the end of the 2004 season.

There is a way, though, that Childress' decision could eventually hurt the Vikings, if you believe, as I do, that no quarterback capable of performing as Culpepper did in 2004 should be dismissed as worthless.

If you are a good team in need of a good quarterback, or if you are a dynamic offensive coach who believes in his ability to harness talent, you should be trying to acquire Culpepper, now out of favor in Miami. He may not play again until 2008, but if he can regain most of his mobility, it will behoove teams in need of a quarterback to review the 2004 season.

With Scott Linehan as his offensive coordinator and sports psychologist, Culpepper compiled a quarterback rating of 110.9. He passed for 4,717 yards, threw 39 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and rushed for 406 yards and two touchdowns. He set an NFL record for yards from scrimmage and looked as comfortable picking apart zones as he did throwing deep to Randy Moss.

Culpepper even thrived when Moss was hurt, giving the lie to the claim that it was his presence that made Culpepper effective.

Linehan and a strong offensive line were the keys, and Culpepper isn't the only quarterback to improve dramatically when introduced to a gifted offensive coordinator.

In 1988, Genius Joe Montana threw 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In 1989, Montana, with Mike Holmgren in his first year as an offensive coordinator, threw 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

A prominent teammate once said that Culpepper was the most insecure great athlete he had ever encountered. Linehan gave him confidence and direction, and the Vikings' strong offensive line gave him time to make decisions.

In the first game of the 2005 season, Culpepper, lacking Linehan's mentoring and Matt Birk's protection, played like a novice.

If Culpepper can land with another team that can support him the way the 2004 Vikings did, he could become a winning quarterback again.

Trading Culpepper could eventually hurt the Vikings if he winds up with the Detroit Lions. Or even the Chicago Bears. Or, perhaps, even the Green Bay Packers, once Brett Favre tires of holding anticlimactic annual press conferences at golf courses in Mississippi.

Take the Lions. They employ the most creative offensive mind in football. Make Linehan drink a 12-pack of Red Bull, and he'd be Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who might even be in line to become the next head coach, if Rod Marinelli doesn't knock off the Captain Queeg act.

Detroit just drafted receiver Calvin Johnson, who might be Moss without the laziness and backstabbing.

Take the Bears. Rex Grossman is not built to last, and he'll never have a season to compare to Culpepper in 2004 ... or 2003 ... or 2000, when he threw 33 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Add a prolific quarterback to Chicago's capable receivers, solid running game and stout defense, and the Bears could stay atop the division for years.

Take the Packers. Is it right that Favre is outlasting Tony Soprano? And if Aaron Rodgers is the answer, what was the question?

Culpepper ruined his reputation in Minnesota with the boat scandal and Childress-baiting, but there's a good quarterback beneath the rust and graffiti. The Vikings should hope they never see that guy again.

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