March 15, 2006

The Culpepper Trade

In a move that has been anticipated in one form or another for months, the Vikings traded Daunte Culpepper to the Dolphins for a second-round pick yesterday. From the early reactions I've heard the deal has generated some very strong opinions, both positive and negative. I happen to think it was a decent trade.

For a pessimistic Vikings fan it's easy to think of Culpepper as the MVP-caliber quarterback from 2003 and 2004, but the fact is that he was a horrible player in 2005 even prior to his season-ending knee injury. He was also really bad in 2002, turns 30 years old on his next birthday, and is far from assured of being physically ready to play when the season starts.

The Vikings didn't trade a great quarterback; they traded a big question mark who has been a great quarterback. There's a big difference. If Culpepper is healthy and plays up to his potential going forward, a second-round pick isn't even close to equal value for him. However, if the knee injury lingers and/or he plays like he did last season, the Vikings will have done well to clear cap space, get rid of a headache, and acquire a valuable pick.

I question how the Vikings plan to address their long-term need at quarterback, because I'm not much of a Brad Johnson fan (and even if I was, he's 37 years old) and none of the second-tier quarterbacks available in this year's draft excite me much. Ignoring that for a moment -- I know it's tough, but try -- I like what they've so far done this offseason.

Chester Taylor is a legitimate three-down running back who has been waiting for an opportunity to show that for the past two seasons. He's big enough to run inside the tackles and versatile enough to thrive catching the ball out of the backfield. I suspect new coach Brad Childress had his eye on Taylor since the moment he got the job, because he's exactly the sort of running back who should thrive in Childress' preferred style of offense.

Ryan Longwell will be an upgrade over the assortment of mediocre kickers the team has trotted out in recent years and Ben Leber is an underrated addition to what was a very weak linebacking corps. If the Seahawks are unable to match the Vikings' massive, tricky contract offer to Steve Hutchinson, then they will also have significantly upgraded the offensive line, which was a huge weakness in 2005.

All in all, the Vikings have lost a lot of star power over the past two years, but that's not necessarily what wins games in the NFL. Culpepper and Randy Moss were an extraordinarily exciting combination, but the Vikings don't need that to be successful. I think they're a much deeper team now than they have been in a while, and assuming they draft well and have a plan at quarterback they're in better shape now than they were before the Moss deal.

Of course, that's a big assumption.

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