NFLPA intervenes, files grievance for Culpepper to end stalemate
Just three days after quarterback Daunte Culpepper said he would pursue NFL Players Association intervention to help him gain his freedom from the Miami Dolphins, the union filed a grievance seeking the release of the eight-year veteran.
No hearing date has been scheduled yet, but NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen said the union has requested an expedited action and is hopeful the matter can be resolved quickly so that Culpepper can move on with his career by finding a new team.
"Every day that goes by, he's kept from going to another team and showing that he could be their starter," Berthelsen said on Tuesday.
"After attempting to handle the situation in Miami professionally and privately, I found that I could not get the Dolphins to do the right thing," Culpepper wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press on Tuesday night. "It is encouraging to know that the NFLPA is willing to step in and help both sides get past this impasse."
Miami officials, who have indicated they will not release Culpepper and instead will continue their efforts to trade him even if the impasse lingers into training camp, did not comment Tuesday night.
The union has pointed out that the standard contract in the NFL calls for players to remain in excellent physical condition and to prepare for the season, but that Culpepper is being denied that right, since the Dolphins will not allow him to practice.
Said Berthelsen: "If the team won't allow him to practice because they don't want to be liable for his contract if he is injured, it should just release him. They can't keep exclusive rights to a player just because they feel he's worth a draft pick [in a trade]."
Culpepper, 30, is under contract through the 2013 season and is due a $5.5 million base salary for 2006. Miami officials have indicated they would probably accept a late-round draft pick for him in a trade.
A frustrated Culpepper, who was rendered expendable by the Dolphins' acquisition of veteran quarterback Trent Green last week, has said he will not accommodate a trade by restructuring his pricey contract. Any team interested in Culpepper, who in 2004 enjoyed one of the greatest statistical seasons in league history but who tore three ligaments in his right knee in October 2005, would almost certainly want him to rework his contract.
"After this is resolved, I look forward to the process of finding a team that would be interested in me as a man and a player," Culpepper wrote in the e-mail. "I can't wait to get back on the field so that I can show the entire NFL my progress."
There is some precedent for the involvement of the NFLPA in Culpepper's situation. Last year, the Tennessee Titans told quarterback Steve McNair that he could no longer use the club's practice facility as the team worked on options to trade him.
McNair eventually won a grievance against the Titans, who then dealt the veteran to the Baltimore Ravens, where he helped the team win a division title in 2006.
One key difference, though, does exist in the situations of the two quarterbacks: The Dolphins have not attempted to completely bar Culpepper from their complex, and he is still free to use the facility to rehabilitate his surgically repaired right knee.
It is not known how the difference between the Culpepper and McNair situations might affect the NFLPA grievance.
Culpepper participated in warmups during last Friday morning's opening session of a mandatory three-day minicamp and took part in some individual drills. Culpepper said he was then apprised by quarterbacks coach Terry Shea that he would not be permitted to take part in any team drills. At that point, Culpepper left the field, accompanied by team director of security Stu Weinstein, and retired to the weight room.
On Saturday, Culpepper worked out in the weight room and watched a portion of the morning practice from the fringes of the field, then distributed a statement to the Miami-area media, which he also e-mailed to selected media outlets. In the statement, he reiterated his desire to be released.
"I am now waiting for the Dolphins' management to do what is right and fair by granting my release, so that I can find a team that will appreciate my talent and love for the game of football," Culpepper said in the statement. "I do not want to cause any disruption while I wait, so I will only be at the facility in order to run and lift. What happened yesterday in the team meeting and on the field was unfair to both me and my teammates. The NFLPA legal department is reviewing the situation and [executive director] Gene Upshaw has encouraged me to continue to be patient and professional."
Culpepper said last Friday that he has already spoken to some teams that might be interested in him if he is released. Under normal circumstances, officials from those teams might have breached NFL anti-tampering rules, since Culpepper remains under contract to the Dolphins. But the Dolphins, according to coach Cam Cameron, have granted Culpepper permission to speak with potential trade partners.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.