Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Two Sides To Every Story

QB Daunte Culpepper has taken his controversial situation to the NFL Players Association. On Tuesday, the NFLPA filed a grievance on behalf of Culpepper against the Dolphins. The crux of the grievance is that the Dolphins are breaching Culpepper's contract by prohibiting him from participating in the team portions of drills. The NFLPA ultimately wants to see the Dolphins release Culpepper so that he can latch onto another team sooner rather than later and compete for a starting job.

The Dolphins, of course, are not content with releasing him outright. They would like to make a trade and thus recoup at least some tangible aspect of the steep investment they made in him (a second-round draft pick and $8 million paid out last season).

So, who is in the right and who is in the wrong in this case?

Realistically, each side has good reason to be taking the stance that they are. Daunte wants a chance to compete for a starting job somewhere, and he's already been told that somewhere is not Miami. The Dolphins, on the other hand, have every right to desire some sort of compensation for a player who is under contract to them.

Now, I'm no legal expert, but I really don't think the NFLPA's grievance against the Dolphins holds any water. According to Richard Berthelsen, the attorney for the NFLPA, "He's being employed as a skilled football player, and unless they're going to let him be one, he should be released." First of all, does any professional football team higher someone as an unskilled football player? The Dolphins are employing Culpepper as a player. Period. The only reason Culpepper would have for filing a grievance would be if he was barred from the team's facilities, as Steve McNair was in Tennessee before last season. However, that is not the case. All of the team's facilities and training equipment are still open and available to Daunte. The only thing Daunte can't do is participate in team drills, and as far as I know coaches have every right to decide how repetitions are divided. If Cam Cameron doesn't feel like giving valuable practice repetitions to Culpepper since he's no longer in the team's plans rather than to a developing guy like John Beck, then that should be his prerogative. I don't see how the NFLPA can force a coach to give reps to someone.

Additionally, even though Culpepper said he was medically cleared to practice by his surgeon, it's still the team's decision to ultimately decide his health-status.

I have been a vocal supporter of Culpepper during his stint in Miami. He did everything he could to rehabilitate his knee in an effort to come back and lead the Dolphins. But there's a new regime in town and it has made its decision on who will lead this team - Trent Green. I respect Daunte for the tireless work he put in for Miami, but it's time to move on. In a perfect world for Daunte, the team would simply release him and let him sign with another team.

But they don't have to do that, and they shouldn't do that. He is still under contract to the Miami Dolphins and this organization should exhaust every opportunity to gain some value from him - even if it is just a late-round draft pick. It would be nice to do right by Daunte and release him, but the main task of GM Randy Mueller is to do right by the Miami Dolphins, and that would mean getting value for a guy like Culpepper.

It's been made public that the Jacksonville Jaguars have expressed some interest in Culpepper, and that makes a lot of sense. Even though Byron Leftwich is the declared starter, it's pretty clear that he holds a tenuous grasp on that role at best. Also, Daunte Culpepper fan Mike Tice is the Jaguar's assistant head coach. Tice coached Culpepper in Minnesota where he was elected to three Pro Bowls. Unfortunately, Culpepper has said that he will not allow himself to be traded by refusing to restructure his contract. It doesn't appear that there's a whole lot of interest for Culpepper other than from the Jaguars, however. If that really is the case, then Culpepper is misguided in thinking that becoming a free agent is going to create a battle between teams for his services and thus driving up his market price. If he really wants to compete for a starting job, he should just accept a trade to the Jaguars and get settled in there. Cameron has already stated that he is fully prepared to hold onto Culpepper into training camp which is in late July. If Daunte stubbornly hangs on that long, then he is self-sabotaging his goal of starting this season.

I understand the sympathy for Culpepper's situation. I feel for him myself. But as a Dolphins fan, I would never want the team to put the interests of a single player over the interests of the team as a whole.

Here's to hoping that Daunte backs off his stance, and a trade gets done. In the end, it's probably what's best for both sides.

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