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WHEN Daunte Culpepper announced his retirement last Thursday in an e-mail to the media, he said he wouldn't be the kind of ex-quarterback who sits around waiting for one of his peers to get hurt. With more than a hint of bitterness, he wrote that it's time to "move on and win in other arenas of life" because he "was not given a fair chance to ... compete for a [starting] job." The statement was greeted with even more skepticism than Brett Favre's teary going-away in March. "I don't know if he's really, really retired," said one team executive. "If somebody called at midseason and said, 'We've got a job for you,' he'd be all over it." Added another front-office figure, "He'd be on the next plane."
The fact is, the person most responsible for Culpepper's joblessness is Culpepper himself. The former Central Florida star spent the offseason acting as if he were still the breathtaking blend of size (6'4", 265), arm strength and athleticism that the Vikings drafted 11th overall in 1999 and who threw for 33 touchdowns while leading Minnesota to the 2000 NFC Championship Game. In reality, he is an often-injured 31-year-old who started 17 of a possible 48 games the past three seasons for three teams. "That knee injury [in 2005 and a second surgery in '06] really wrecked him," said one pro personnel director. "He still has that big-time arm, but he doesn't move the same."
Culpepper's unwillingness to be a second-stringer was a problem. The Packers and the Steelers talked to him but backed off when Culpepper said he wanted to compete for a top job and be paid as a starter. ( Culpepper made $3.2 million last season with the Raiders.) He recently said he was willing to sign with Green Bay as a backup, but by then the Packers had committed to two rookie draft choices.
Culpepper's misreading of the market suggests that he made a mistake by deciding three years ago to act as his own agent. Still, he may get another chance. Says another team executive, "If Vinny Testaverde can get a job, I promise you when somebody loses one or two quarterbacks, they will reach out to him."
The Pop Culture