Bucs meet with Culpepper as quarterback begins evaluating suitors
Call it a potential marriage of convenience.
Finally released from his Miami Dolphins' contract earlier this week, Daunte Culpepper is looking for a new job. And Tampa Bay Bucs coach Jon Gruden, it seems, is always looking for another quarterback, no matter how crowded his current depth chart.
The two men met on Thursday, league and team sources confirmed, as Culpepper began to examine firsthand his list of possible suitors. There was no workout involved, but the Bucs spent a good portion of the afternoon on the visit, and are said to be somewhat intrigued by the eight-year veteran.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are still considered to be the franchise most likely to eventually sign Culpepper, who would like to have a deal in place when NFL training camps open next week. Mike Tice, who was both an assistant and head coach in Minnesota during much of Culpepper's tenure with the Vikings, is now the assistant head coach of the Jaguars, and is said to be lobbying hard for Jacksonville to sign the quarterback.
Despite rumors to the contrary, the Atlanta Falcons have no interest in Culpepper. Team officials raised his name in internal discussions earlier this week, but it was determined that Atlanta will not pursue Culpepper, even in the wake of the indictment of Michael Vick.
It is not known if Culpepper, who serves as his own agent, has arranged yet to meet with any other teams.
Tampa Bay currently has seven quarterbacks on its roster: veterans Jeff Garcia, Chris Simms, Jake Plummer, Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski, and rookies Zac Taylor and Bruce Eugene. The Bucs have attempted to lure Plummer out of retirement, but have so far been unsuccessful, and the 10-year veteran is not expected to report to camp.
Garcia, signed as an unrestricted free agent this spring, is likely to enter camp as the starter.
But Gruden loves collecting quarterbacks, especially battle-tested veterans. Culpepper, even with suspicions lingering about the durability of his twice surgically-repaired right knee, is a guy who might merit a look. In October 2005, Culpepper shredded the knee, tearing three of four ligaments in a game against the Carolina Panthers. He has spent nearly 21 months rehabilitating from the catastrophic injury.
Culpepper, 30, enjoyed one of the greatest statistical seasons in NFL history with the Vikings in 2004, throwing for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns, with only 11 interceptions, and compiling a passer efficiency rating of 110.9. He has appeared in only 11 games since then, however, largely because of the knee injury, and in that period Culpepper has thrown nearly twice as many interceptions (15) as touchdown passes (eight).
The Dolphins acquired Culpepper in a trade with Minnesota last spring, but he played in only four games before losing his starting job, and succumbing to knee problems again. When the Dolphins dealt for Kansas City starter Trent Green last month, Culpepper became expendable, but Miami waited until Tuesday, just one day before an arbitration hearing, to cut him loose.
For his career, Culpepper has completed 1,759 of 2,741 passes for 21,091 yards, with 137 touchdown passes, 89 interceptions and a passer rating of 90.8. The former Central Florida star, a first-round pick of the Vikings in 1999, has played in 85 games, starting 84 of them.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.