Arbitrator's flight delay causes Culpepper hearing postponement
Culpepper's grievance hearing, originally scheduled for Friday, was postponed after the flight on which arbitrator John Feerick, who was to travel from New York to South Florida to preside over the case, was delayed because of weather. Unable to book a flight for later in the day, Feerick conferred with the parties involved and rescheduled the hearing.
The grievance is now tentatively set to be argued next Tuesday in Los Angeles. There is a chance it could be delayed beyond that, however, because of potential logistical issues.
"Every day the hearing is postponed is a day in which [Culpepper] misses the opportunity to be a free agent," said NFL Players Association general counsel Richard Berthelsen, who is to represent the quarterback in the grievance. "Time becomes an issue."
Culpepper, who serves as his own agent, could not be immediately reached for comment. The Dolphins are expected to be represented by team attorneys and officials from the NFL Management Council, which is the league's labor arm.
It took Feerick about two weeks to issue his final ruling after the McNair grievance, and a similar timetable is expected in the Culpepper case. Berthelsen also represented McNair in his case.
Shortly after Feerick ruled for McNair, the veteran quarterback was traded to Baltimore. He started all 16 games and led the Ravens to their first division title since 2003.
One key difference does exist in the situations of the two quarterbacks: The Dolphins have not attempted to bar Culpepper from their complex completely, as the Titans did last year with McNair. At this point, Culpepper is still free to use the team's facility to rehabilitate his surgically repaired right knee.
But with the acquisition of 13-year veteran Trent Green in a trade with Kansas City earlier this month, Culpepper no longer fits into Miami's plans for 2007 and is expendable. He would like to be released so that he could move on to another team and hopes that his case is resolved expeditiously.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, who view Culpepper as a backup candidate, are among the teams interested in the eight-year veteran. In fact, Jacksonville might be the leading suitor, and club officials have even discussed with members of the current quarterback depth chart the possibility of adding Culpepper to the mix.
Jacksonville has no desire, though, to trade for Culpepper and prefers to pursue him as a free agent if he can extricate himself from his Miami contract.
At a minicamp earlier this month, Culpepper did not participate in any team drills and was relegated to doing individual work. Apprised of the franchise's stance on the first day of the minicamp, Culpepper sought the intervention of the NFLPA and declared that he wanted to be released. He insisted he would not accommodate a trade by restructuring his contract, which calls for a $5.5 million base salary in 2007 and runs through 2013.
Just three days after seeking NFLPA intervention, the union filed a grievance action on Culpepper's behalf. A few days later, the date for the grievance hearing was established.
"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," Berthelsen said. "They can't keep exclusive rights to a player just because they feel he's worth a draft pick [in a trade]."
Miami officials, who indicated that they will not release Culpepper and instead will continue their efforts to trade him, even if that means carrying him on the roster into training camp, have declined comment on the grievance.
Culpepper, 30, was acquired by the Dolphins in a 2006 trade with Minnesota after he played the first seven seasons of his career with the Vikings. But he appeared in just four games for the Dolphins and continued to have problems with his right knee before being benched and replaced by Joey Harrington for the rest of the year.
A first-round pick in the 1999 draft, Culpepper enjoyed one of the greatest statistical seasons in league history in 2004, throwing for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns. But he suffered a severe setback in October 2005 when he sustained a catastrophic injury, tearing three ligaments in his right knee. As a result, Culpepper has appeared in only 11 games over the past two seasons.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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