Daily mailbag: The Culpepper/Cutler connection

March, 23, 2009
3/23/09
10:45
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

DANA POINT, Calif. -- While we're out chasing a few interviews Monday morning, Tim of Brooklyn Park provides an interesting discussion point:

 Cutler
 Culpepper

"Kevin, there is an obvious comparison of the Denver situation that we are all missing. It reminds me of the Culpepper/Childress divorce. ... Personally, I think the situation in Minnesota worked out for the better. If it doesn't work out in Denver, though, it could set that team back 3-5 years."

I've felt some of the same parallels, Tim, having covered that messy divorce over the first few months of coach Brad Childress' tenure in 2006. The similarities as I see them:

  1. Like Jay Cutler, Daunte Culpepper was the Vikings' franchise quarterback and considered their long-term answer at the position.
  2. Like Denver's Josh McDaniels, Childress took the Vikings' head coaching job with a mandate to change the culture of the team. Childress had been preceded by Mike Tice and Dennis Green, who had similar systems and approaches to many issues during tenures that combined for 14 years. Mike Shanahan had also been the Broncos' coach for 14 years.
  3. Both instances of strife were based on distrust from the player and disbelief from management.

Otherwise, however, the two battles seem fundamentally different. Let's run through them:

  1. Culpepper was less than four months removed from a catastrophic knee injury that left his immediate future in doubt. He returned to play in 2006 for the Miami Dolphins, but ultimately admitted he returned too early. In reality, Culpepper shouldn't have played until 2007. Cutler is completely healthy.
  2. Much of the Culpepper strife came from the fact that he was midway through a contract renegotiation when the injury occurred. He had received an $8 million upgrade the previous summer with the unspoken promise that his contract would be further evaluated after the season. The knee injury postponed that action. Culpepper considered it a broken promise. The Vikings were stunned Culpepper was still seeking the new deal.
  3. While Cutler is on deck for a new contract, there have been no overt requests for negotiations. Publicly, at least, Cutler's distrust of management has been attributed to the Broncos' participation in trade discussions. McDaniels and owner Pat Bowlen have seemed stunned at the way Cutler reacted to their explanation for those discussions.

Tim, I agree the Vikings made the right call on Culpepper. He hasn't been a productive quarterback since the injury, and has only recently returned to a frame of mind that will allow him to finish his career strong. I think you can argue the Vikings haven't handled the ensuing task of finding his replacement quite as well, but that's for another day.

The one thought that keeps returning to my head is that for most of the Culpepper debacle, people assumed the sides would work it out and there would be no trade. It's not often that teams trade their franchise quarterback, regardless of internal issues.

Fair or not, that's the tack many people are taking with Cutler and the Broncos. Of course they'll work it out. Why would the Broncos trade a 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback? I'm here to tell you, based on experience, that nothing is out of the question.

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