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Vikings end era, ship Culpepper to Miami

| Wednesday, March 15, 2006

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Culpepper to Moss was supposed to be the 21st century version of Montana to Rice, only faster and more fun to watch.

The Minnesota Vikings all but closed the book on that identity Tuesday, agreeing to trade quarterback Daunte Culpepper to the Miami Dolphins for a second-round draft pick.

After Culpepper passed a medical exam in South Florida, the Dolphins announced the deal Wednesday, nearly 24 hours after it was first reported.

Culpepper will happily leave Minnesota after seven up-and-down seasons, highlighted by all those deep passes to Randy Moss.

The Vikings turned the century with Culpepper, a frightening mix of speed, power and size, at quarterback, and Moss, the super-fast "Super Freak," at receiver. With those two leading the way, the Vikings became one of the most prolific and cutting-edge offenses in the game.

Now Moss is in Oakland and Culpepper is in Miami, both having grown disgruntled in Minnesota and all but forcing their exits.

While most weren't surprised by the headaches Moss caused toward the end of his stay in Minnesota -- from leaving the field early in Washington to his infamous "I play when I want to play" comment -- Culpepper's fall from favor took everyone by surprise.

Less than a year ago, after Moss was traded to the Raiders, the Vikings were set to build around Culpepper, the charismatic leader who always had a smile on his face.

That smile disappeared quickly in 2005, first with his struggles on the field without Moss, then a highly publicized boat party scandal on Lake Minnetonka, and finally with a severe knee injury in a game against Carolina on Oct. 30.

Culpepper retreated to seclusion in his Florida home, rarely making public appearances while he started rehabbing after surgery to repair three torn ligaments in his right knee. He steadfastly proclaimed his innocence of misdemeanor public indecency charges stemming from the boat party, then fired his agent and started representing himself.

He clashed with Vikings management, which wanted him to rehab in the Twin Cities, and never saw eye-to-eye with new coach Brad Childress.

It all came to a head last week, when Culpepper said he didn't like the tone of an e-mail he received from the front office and requested to be traded or released.

With his health in question, and his relationship with Childress off to a rocky start, the Vikings moved quickly to accommodate Culpepper's request.

The Dolphins showed the most interest, with coach Nick Saban making quarterback one of the team's highest priorities heading into free agency. Meanwhile, the Vikings' identity will be forever altered.

Childress is bringing his West Coast offense from Philadelphia, which features shorter, higher-percentage passes than the vertical game that lit up the Metrodome in recent seasons.

The three-time Pro Bowler dazzled fans with his uncanny ability to scramble and throw, but also maddened them with a propensity for turnovers.

He signed a 10-year, $102-million contract after another Pro Bowl appearance in 2003. But the deal was relatively low in guaranteed money, and Culpepper started asking for raises following his finest season in 2004, when he threw for more than 4,700 yards and 39 TDs.

The Vikings put their faith in Culpepper when they traded Moss to Oakland before last season, but that didn't work out.

Culpepper threw 12 interceptions and only six TDs in their 2-5 start. Backup Brad Johnson then led Minnesota to a 7-2 finish.

Under Johnson, the Vikings were much more conservative, relying on an improved defense and play-making special teams unit to carry the load.

It could be a sign of things to come. The Vikings appear set on starting the season with the 37-year-old Johnson as their No. 1 guy, though Childress said on Saturday that he wouldn't rule out bringing in another veteran if the fit was right.

The Dolphins' plan is for Culpepper to take over for Gus Frerotte, who backed up Culpepper in Minnesota and guided Miami to a 9-7 season last year. Frerotte was released Tuesday but might be re-signed for less money as a backup.

Miami also spoke to free agent Drew Brees, but didn't want to pay the high price he was asking after shoulder surgery. Shortly after the Culpepper deal was announced, the New Orleans Saints said they agreed to a six-year contract with Brees.

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