Officials from the Jacksonville Jaguars have hinted at a curiosity about Daunte Culpepper, and the possibility of adding him to a deep but questionable depth chart, but the team has not publicly acknowledged its interest in the frustrated Miami Dolphins' quarterback.
And now, apparently, it doesn't have to.
The two men who would be most affected if Jacksonville acquires Culpepper either in a trade or via free agency if he can force his release from the Dolphins, starter Byron Leftwich and veteran backup David Garrard, both said Wednesday they have been apprised by Jags' management that Culpepper is definitely on the radar screen.
"Yeah, they talked to me," Garrard confirmed to the team's Web site, after a Wednesday organized team activities (OTA) practice. The Web site attributed the quotes to Leftwich on Wednesday night, but amended it Thursday. "[Offensive coordinator] Dirk [Koetter] did. He said it doesn't have anything to do with my status. He just wanted to make sure we knew it was true. They don't have to tell you what they're thinking. It was cool.
"I was told we have to bring him in to look at him. [Culpepper] has a good relationship with Mike Tice from their days together in Minnesota. If I'm the owner, and I can get somebody cheap like that, I'd be dumb not to [consider it]."
Tice is the Jaguars' assistant head coach/offense. He was an assistant on the Minnesota staff when the Vikings chose Culpepper in the first round of the 1999 draft. Tice subsequently became the head coach in Minnesota, and he held that position for four full seasons with Culpepper as his starting quarterback.
It has been rumored that Tice has quietly championed within the Jacksonville organization the possibility of bringing Culpepper to the Jaguars.
Leftwich, 27, and Jacksonville's first choice in the 2003 draft, said he has "no problem" with the team's interest in Culpepper.
"It's smart to look into it, especially with me having only one year on my contract," said Leftwich, who has yet to play a full 16-game schedule because of injuries. "I understand it. I'm in the last year of my contract and nobody knows which way this is going to go."
Earlier this spring, Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio named Leftwich as his starter for the 2007 season, even though the four-year veteran is coming off ankle surgery that limited him to just six starts last season. But Culpepper is entering the final year of his contract, and there have been no substantive negotiations toward an extension. Without an add-on to his current deal, Leftwich would be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring.
Koetter, who is in his first season as offensive coordinator, is said to have become quite enamored of Leftwich, and feels he is a good fit for the new design being implemented. But the contract situation, along with the normal due diligence expected whenever a player the caliber of Culpepper becomes available, likely have heightened the Jags' curiosity level.
Viewed as one of the NFL's top backups, Garrard, who has started 18 games in five years, said he was told Jacksonville's interest in Culpepper is not a reflection of how the franchise feels about his work. Garrard started 10 games in 2006 after Leftwich was injured and rung up a 5-5 record but was winless in the final three games as the Jaguars missed the playoffs.
"If my [practice] snaps are diminished [with Culepper around], then I have to make some business moves myself," said Garrard. "It's not like ... if they released me, I would just wither away."
Del Rio has reiterated in recent days that Leftwich remains the projected starter and insisted that if any new quarterback is added to the roster, it will be as a backup. But he also noted that the Jaguars "don't rule any players out." At one point this week, Del Rio referred to Culpepper as "a quarterback who plays south of here."
Team sources told ESPN.com that the Jaguars are not inclined to compensate Miami, even with a late-round draft pick, for Culpepper. But those same sources said that, if Culpepper gain his freedom and becomes a free agent, Jacksonville would be interested in signing him.
Culpepper is due a base salary of $5.5 million for this year and is under contract through the 2013 season. He has emphasized that he will not restructure his contract to accommodate a trade and prefers to be released. On Tuesday, the NFL Players Association field a grievance on Culpepper's behalf in an attempt to gain his release.
"Right now, he's on another roster," said Del Rio, mindful of the fact Culpepper remains under contract to Miami and cognizant of NFL anti-tampering rules in such matters. "I don't think it makes any sense for me ... to talk about someone on another roster."
But, clearly, the Jaguars have spoken internally about Culpepper and the potential for adding the eight-year veteran. And they've been candid enough with the current signal-callers on their roster to inform them it's an option they are exploring.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.