Vikings' option at quarterback is puzzling one

ON THE NFL

April 09, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Minnesota Vikings are going to Plan B at quarterback.

Or maybe it's Plan C, D or E.

After Randall Cunningham refused to take a pay cut, Dan Marino decided to retire, Jeff George balked at a one-year deal and Rick Mirer rejected an offer because he expects to go to San Francisco, coach Dennis Green signed Bubby Brister as his backup last week and anointed second-year quarterback Daunte Culpepper as his starter.

"Daunte Culpepper is going to be our starting quarterback. A lot of his classmates got a chance to play last season. But he's going to be the best of the bunch," Green said.

To put it mildly, that's a minority opinion around the league. Culpepper has a long way to go to prove he's better than Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Cade McNown and Shaun King.

It's also a risky move for a playoff contender to go with a second-year quarterback who didn't play his first season. Mike Shanahan learned that last year in Denver when he benched Brister at the end of training camp for Brian Griese.

It doesn't help that Cris Carter and Randy Moss are good receivers but are quick to complain when they don't think the quarterback is getting them the ball. Both of them wanted the Vikings to bring George back.

"There's no doubt that there's added pressure," Culpepper said. "But that's the type of player I am. I thrive under pressure like that. That's going to make me better."

Culpepper brushed off all the skepticism, some of it in the Vikings' locker room after he didn't exactly look good in practice as a rookie.

"People have the right to their own opinions. But I will gain the respect of everybody I need to. Absolutely. People don't know me because they haven't seen me play. But I'll tell you what, I'm going to make them a believer."

Culpepper is so upbeat, he says that not playing last year was a plus.

"I wanted to be out there, but I think I'm a better quarterback now, having not played last year. I didn't think I'd be saying it. But I feel I am a better quarterback because I have a feel for what the NFL is all about, and it helped me by watching Jeff and Randall last year," he said.

Culpepper is talking a good game. Now he has to play one. If he doesn't, Green, who got a lot of flak for taking Culpepper over Jevon Kearse last year, could be getting the pink slip next year.

Duel

Don't be surprised if it's Kurt Warner vs. veteran Steve Young in the first Monday night game of the year, when the St. Louis Rams play host to the Denver Broncos.

When Young's agent, Leigh Steinberg, said last week that Young wants to come back, the San Francisco 49ers didn't exactly send out a welcoming party.

The 49ers know they're rebuilding and an old quarterback with concussion problems isn't the answer. They're going to draft a young quarterback -- probably Chad Pennington or Giovanni Carmazzi -- and groom him.

They'd prefer that Young retire, but if he doesn't, they'll probably give him his release.

If that happens, Shanahan will sign him immediately. He called the plays for the 1994 San Francisco Super Bowl team, and he's close to Young. And a veteran is a good fit for a veteran Broncos team that thinks it can become a contender again.

The 49ers aren't the only team that hopes he retires. His former coach, George Seifert, now in Carolina, worries about the risk if he plays again.

"To me, the problem is how would you like to be the one who gives him the green light, and then he goes out and gets hurt? I hope Steve doesn't put anybody in that position," he said.

Young appears to be ready to do just that. He's a lawyer and financially set for life, but he wants to play again.

Celebration

The Cincinnati Bengals are stunned, but they're starting to believe all the talk that Peter Warrick is going to fall to them in the fourth slot because the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins will pass on him in the first three slots.

"I just don't see it. But it looks more and more like it's going to happen," said Bengals director of college/pro personnel Jim Lippincott. "Everything you read, on the Internet, the mock drafts, the [Cleveland] Plain Dealer. Then I think back to this fall when he was the best player in the country."

Surprisingly, the Bengals don't plan to trade disgruntled wide receiver Carl Pickens even if they get Warrick. They're enamored of the idea of a three-wide set of Warrick, Pickens and Darnay Scott.

The player they're apparently willing to trade is another disgruntled player, running back Corey Dillon. The deadline for another team signing the restricted free agent to an offer sheet is tomorrow, but he can be traded at any time.

If the Ravens are willing to give up the 15th pick and another lower choice and meet Dillon's salary demands (something in the James Stewart five-year, $25 million neighborhood), they can probably get him. Kansas City is after him, too, but the Chiefs' pick is the 21st, and that may be too late for the Bengals to draft a quality running back to replace Dillon.

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