Culpepper, unable to catch on as free agent, retires at age 31

Updated: September 5, 2008, 8:27 AM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Daunte Culpepper, unable to land a starting or backup job this offseason, announced his retirement at the age of 31.

Culpepper had one-year offers from the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason for backup jobs, but didn't find those offers suitable. Though his surgically reconstructed knee was healthy and his arm still strong during visits to those teams, Culpepper decided to end his career.

"After taking a long look at my career and my personal convictions, I have decided to begin early retirement from the NFL effective immediately," Culpepper said in an e-mail.

"Since the beginning of training camp, I was told my opportunity would come when a quarterback gets hurt. I cannot remember the last time so many quarterbacks have been injured during the preseason," Culpepper said. "I have been strongly encouraged from family, friends and league personnel to continue to be patient and wait for an inevitable injury to one of the starting quarterbacks in the league.

Culpepper On Retirement

Former Vikings, Dolphins and Raiders quarterback Daunte Culpepper announced his retirement from the NFL on Thursday. He issued the following statement:

When free agency began this year, I had a new sense of excitement about continuing to rebuild my career in the same way that I had rebuilt my knee after my catastrophic injury in 2005. Unfortunately, what I found out was that the league did not share any of the optimism about me as an unrestricted free agent that I expected. In fact, there was an overwhelming sense that there was no room for me among this year's group of quarterbacks; whether in a starting, competing or a back-up role. No matter what I did or said, there seemed to be a unified message from teams that I was not welcome to compete for one of the many jobs that were available at the quarterback position. It seems that the stance I took in both Minnesota and Miami regarding my rights as a person and player has followed me into free agency.

After taking a long look at my career and my personal convictions, I have decided to begin early retirement from the NFL effective immediately. Since the beginning of training camp I was told that my opportunity would come when a quarterback gets hurt. I cannot remember the last time so many QB's have been injured during the preseason. I have been strongly encouraged from family, friends and league personnel to continue to be patient and wait for an inevitable injury to one of the starting quarterbacks in the league. I would rather shut the door to such "opportunity" than continue to wait for one of my fellow quarterbacks to suffer a serious injury. Since I was not given a fair chance to come in and compete for a job, I would rather move on and win in other arenas of life.

The decision I made in 2006 to represent myself rather than hire an agent has been an invaluable experience. I now understand why so many people within the NFL community are uncomfortable with a player really learning the business. The NFL has become more about power, money and control than passion, competition and the love of the game. Regardless of this shift, player's rights are still supposed to be a part of this league. Since I will not be given the opportunity to honor the memory of Gene Upshaw by wearing a patch on my uniform this year, I will instead spend some of my energy applying what he taught me about standing up for what is right and not sitting down for what is clearly wrong.

I want to thank my family and my fans for their unwavering belief in me as a person and a player. I embraced both the peaks and the valleys of the game and my career. I am a better person today as a direct result of the experience of playing in the NFL. I can now focus on the enjoyment of watching some of the greatest athletes in the world play the game I love without the distraction of waiting for those elusive return phone calls.

Thankfully,
Daunte Culpepper

"I would rather shut the door to such 'opportunity' than continue to wait for one of my fellow quarterbacks to suffer a serious injury. Since I was not given a fair chance to come in and compete for a job, I would rather move on and win in other arenas of life."

Culpepper, the Vikings' first-round draft choice (11th overall) in the 1999 draft, played nine seasons for three teams -- the Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders.

His best days were in Minnesota, where he established himself as one of the league's top quarterbacks. Together with Randy Moss, he was part of one of the NFL's most-feared quarterback-receiver tandems.

During his career, Culpepper completed 1,867 of 2,927 passes for 22,422 yards and 142 touchdowns. His career quarterback rating was a lofty 89.9, and he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection. His best season was in 2004 when he threw for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns for the Vikings.

But he blew out his knee the next season, and his career wasn't the same afterward.

The Dolphins acquired Culpepper in 2006 in exchange for a second-round pick, but Culpepper played only four games before being shut down because of continued knee problems.

He was sacked 21 times in those four games, and his brief stint with Miami had two compelling images: Getting sacked seven times in his first home game, where fans booed him by halftime; and walking off the field during minicamp in June 2007, flanked by a team security official, because the Dolphins wouldn't let him practice.

Last season, the Raiders took a shot on Culpepper, and he made five starts there, throwing only getting five touchdown passes in those games.

"The thing about Daunte was he was a fabulous competitor," Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said. "He competed as hard as anybody on our field and that's unusual for a quarterback."

The past few months, Culpepper tried to get any opportunity around the league, even saying just last week that he'd be willing to be Aaron Rodgers' backup in Green Bay.

"Now that dream to get back on the field and prove everybody wrong is behind him," said Dolphins defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday, who talked to Culpepper about his ongoing comeback quest this summer. "It has to be tough. ... When he was healthy, he was definitely one of the best."

But there were no takers, and Culpepper saw no reason to keep waiting.

"When free agency began this year, I had a new sense of excitement about continuing to rebuild my career in the same way that I had rebuilt my knee after my catastrophic injury in 2005," Culpepper said Thursday. "Unfortunately, what I found out was that the league did not share any of the optimism about me as an unrestricted free agent that I expected. In fact, there was an overwhelming sense that there was no room for me among this year's group of quarterbacks, whether in a starting, competing or a backup role.

"No matter what I did or said, there seemed to be a unified message from teams that I was not welcome to compete for one of the many jobs that were available at the quarterback position. It seems that the stance I took in both Minnesota and Miami regarding my rights as a person and player has followed me into free agency."

In Minnesota, Culpepper's decision was met with disappointment, even though he hadn't played there for years.

"Very surprising. Surprising that he hasn't gotten a job, too. Sad," Vikings safety Darren Sharper said. "Last year I didn't think he played bad in Oakland. I've seen quarterbacks that are still playing in this league today play a lot worse. ... And they still have jobs. So I don't know the reason for it."

Added Holliday: "If he was anywhere close to 100 percent, it would seem teams would have to take a shot at him. You look at the league and you see a lot of teams don't have that high-profile, quality quarterback."

Before And After

In 2004, Daunte Culpepper had the kind of season NFL quarterbacks dream of. For the next three years, he struggled through the kind of nightmares that make QBs wake up in a cold sweat -- a catastrophic knee injury and a frustrating comeback that ended Thursday in retirement. Here's a look at those four seasons.

Daunte Culpepper: 2004 And After
Category 2004 2005-07
Games 16 18
Comp pct 69.2 61.2
Pass yds 4,717 3,824
TD-Int 39-11 13-20
* Suffered season-ending knee injury during 2005 season

Culpepper is one of the few players who hasn't had an agent. He represents himself.

"The decision I made in 2006 to represent myself rather than hire an agent has been an invaluable experience," Culpepper said. "I now understand why so many people with the NFL community are uncomfortable with a player really learning the business. The NFL has become more about power, money and control than passion, competition and the love of the game. Regardless of this shift, players' rights are still supposed to be part of this league. Since I will not be given the opportunity to honor the memory of Gene Upshaw by wearing a patch on my uniform this year, I will instead spend some of my energy applying what he taught me about standing up for what is right and not sitting down for what is clearly wrong."

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer