Four years and one catastrophic knee injury removed from one of the best statistical seasons in NFL history, quarterback Daunte Culpepper called it quits Thursday.
In an e-mail, Culpepper said goodbye to his NFL career after he was unable to find what he believed was an acceptable job with a team. Culpepper was offered contracts by both Green Bay and Pittsburgh this off-season after playing last season with Oakland and 2006 with Miami.
Culpepper’s career, which featured a 39-touchdown and 11-interception performance in 2004 with Minnesota, took an abrupt turn in 2005 when he suffered a severe injury to his right knee. He tore three ligaments and sustained cartilage damage to his knee in a game against Carolina.
Culpepper spent this off-season training at Perfect Competition in Davie, Fla., but said he called it a career after being unable to get a job. He had been awaiting what might happen after each of the 32 teams in the NFL cut down to the roster limit of 53 players last weekend.
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 QBs 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, players’ 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.
Culpepper was a first-round draft pick by Minnesota in 1999, the No. 11 overall selection and one of five quarterbacks selected that year. He took over as the Vikings’ starting quarterback in 2000.
He finished his career having completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 22,422 yards, 142 touchdowns, 94 interceptions and a career passer rating of 89.9. Before the knee injury, he was considered an extraordinary runner for his size (6-foot-4, 265 pounds). Coaches and personnel people have said that Culpepper struggled to adjust his game after the injury.