5 teammates stump to keep Culpepper
McKinnie to Vikings: Don't make same mistake
BY SEAN JENSEN
The Vikings and Daunte Culpepper have been tight-lipped amid trade speculation involving the quarterback.
But left tackle Bryant McKinnie, tight end Jermaine Wiggins, defensive tackle Kevin Williams, nose tackle Pat Williams and cornerback Antoine Winfield all said they hope Culpepper remains their teammate and that the team would be worse off without him.
"That's crazy," McKinnie said when asked about the speculation of Culpepper being traded. "I don't agree with trading him. Last year, they traded Randy Moss.
"We already made one mistake (trading Moss). Don't do it twice. If that's the case, let me go."
McKinnie said the Vikings have had a smooth offseason and that he is looking forward to returning to Winter Park soon to meet the new coaches and staff. But McKinnie, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2007 season, said he would not want to remain a Viking if Culpepper is gone.
"I didn't like the trade last year, so I'm definitely not going to like this trade," McKinnie said. "Trading would not solve anything. What's that going to do? Make somebody else's team better that we might have to play against?"
Pat Williams said of the possibility of losing Culpepper, "It would be a big loss because we would be starting from scratch."
A Vikings spokesman declined comment, and Culpepper did not respond to an interview request for this story.
Winfield said Culpepper was one of the main reasons he signed with the Vikings two years ago and backed out of a deal with the New York Jets.
"I want him here," Winfield said. "I enjoy playing with him; he's a great guy to be around, and he's definitely a leader. I mean, he had a few bad games last year. But he's had a great career. He'll bounce back, whether it's here or somewhere else."
Wiggins said judging Culpepper by his 2005 season is unfair.
"The guy has been to three Pro Bowls, and in 2004, if Peyton Manning doesn't have the year he had, Daunte would have been an MVP contender," Wiggins said. "Obviously, last year he got hurt and we didn't play well as a team, and that reflects on him. A lot of it had to do with us as a team, and we weren't doing the things we needed to do. But people in the media will put the brunt of it on his shoulders, because he is the quarterback."
McKinnie said he is surprised the Vikings haven't been more sensitive to and forthcoming with Culpepper.
"The man went through a lot this season," McKinnie said. "The team should at least let Daunte know what's happening. He's got a lot of stress right now. They should be upfront with him."
Added Winfield, "He's been injured, and he doesn't know his future. If I were him, I'd be like, 'Dang, does this team even want me here?' "
Wiggins said he and other teammates have been frustrated with all the speculation involving Culpepper.
"As players, it kind of concerns us because everything is done by anonymous sources," Wiggins said. "As players, we'd rather stuff be straightforward, whatever it may be, so you can focus on the guys who are going to be on your team and what direction people want to go. But this is a business, and we have to realize that. There's a lot of things that come of it, good and bad."
Pat Williams said he wouldn't believe the trade rumors until someone makes a public comment.
"Our owner hasn't said anything, so I don't believe it," he said.
Owner Zygi Wilf has not responded to interview requests from the Pioneer Press about Culpepper.
A key sticking point between the Vikings and Culpepper is believed to be money, which doesn't surprise Winfield.
"I respect every player in this league," Winfield said. "It's a tough game, and you're not going to be in this forever. So players who hold out for more money, I don't hold anything against them."
Winfield said teams do nothing when a player outperforms his contract. But they insist on a pay cut or restructuring if a player underperforms.
McKinnie applauded the play of Brad Johnson but wondered about his future.
"Brad did a great job," McKinnie said of Johnson, who will turn 38 in September. "But you can't say he's a long-term quarterback. Not taking anything away from him, but how many more full seasons can he last?"
Added Pat Williams, "I'm not saying Brad wouldn't get the job done. But we still need Culpepper."
With a $6 million roster bonus due on March 17, Culpepper's future likely will be decided sooner rather than later.
"From the fury of the Northmen, O Lord, save us!"
-- From a monestary in Ireland.