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Saturday, June 09, 2007
Daunte Culpepper: Walking Alone On and Off the Field

Yesterday was not a good day for Miami Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper. The 30-year-old, who was supplanted as the team's starter earlier in the week upon the trade for Trent Green, was only allowed by Dolphins' officials to participate in individual drills during mini-camp; despite his desire to practice with his teammates, the coaching staff told him that he could not do so. Why? They thought that it would make sense to ease him back as he recovers from re-constructive knee surgery--especially as the front office tries to trade him with Green on the roster.

In response to the practice restrictions, Culpepper walked off the field, accompanied by a member of the Dolphins' security staff. Clearly, the frustration of losing his starting job, coupled with being separated from his teammates by team officials who thought he wasn't good enough to start, got to him, as it would to many players in that situation.

So how will the Dolphins and Culpepper work out their problems? A trade doesn't appear to be an option: Culpepper says that he will not report to any team that trades for him. Instead, he wants his outright release so that he can pick his next team. Aside from getting that choice, I suspect Culpepper might also want to see the Dolphins not get compensation for him. But the Dolphins don't want to release a player who has trade value. So both sides seem to lose here: Culpepper stays away from the team, perhaps looking selfish and not getting paid, while new Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron begins his coaching tenure with a much unwanted distraction, and also subject to criticism that he needlessly embarrassed Culpepper when precluding him from team practice.

Where is Culpepper's agent in this story? He's always there with Culpepper . . . . because he is Culpepper. Culpepper is one of the few NFL players who acts as his own agent. The upside to such an arrangement is momentary: Culpepper doesn't have to pay a fee to an agent, which can be as high as 3 percent of his salary.

But would he be better off with an agent? In the abstract, without knowing who that agent might be or his/her talents, it's hard to know how he/she would compare to Culpepper acting as his own agent. But it seems reasonable to conclude that an agent would be especially helpful when one finds himself angry with his team. An agent can work to diffuse the tension, acting as an intermediary or buffer between the player and team, and also develop a public relations strategy to deal with media. Those points seem particularly true considering what social psychology teaches us about how poorly we understand ourselves and the ways in which our minds work (to read further about that topic, please check out The Situationist and the Harvard Law School Project on Law and Mind Sciences)--if there is ever a time when one needs counsel, it's during crisis. While it's possible that Culpepper may have an attorney or other adviser, the press reports I've read do not indicate that he does. We'll see what happens.

Update (7:20 p.m.): Late this afternoon, Culpepper released a press release that he said he wrote. In it, he reiterated his demand for a release and insisted that he will not practice with the Dolphins. However, he said that he will still attend Dolphins' training camp to workout and lift weights. Also, in a move that would make Rick Karcher proud, Culpepper has asked for and received counsel from the NFLPA on this matter (Rick has written extensively about unions, rather than agents, representing players):

I am now waiting for the Dolphins management to do what is right and fair by granting my release so that I can find a team that will appreciate my talent and love for the game. I do not want to cause any disruption while I wait, so I will only be at the facility in order to run and lift. What happened Friday in the team meeting and on the field was unfair to both me and my teammates. The NFLPA legal department is reviewing the situation and Gene Upshaw has encouraged me to continue to be patient and professional.


Didn't a similar situation occur last year with McNair, and didn't the Titans get their hands slapped when McNair filed a grievance? Wouldn't you expect a similar result here, especially given that Culpepper seems to be working closely with the union?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/09/2007 6:53 PM  

Thanks for the comment, and your prediction of a grievance seems very plausible.

Having said that, and as you imply, one difference between the situations of McNair and Culpepper is that McNair had an agent, Bus Cook, representing him, while Culpepper does not, although both have the NFLPA on their side.

Another difference is that while the Titans barred McNair from their training camp complex, the Dolphins have only barred Culpepper from certain on-field drills.

Also, when arbitrator John Feerick held for the NFLPA in the McNair/Titans dispute, he only allowed for McNair to rejoin his teammates for workouts, which is something that, at least arguably, Culpepper can already do with the Dolphins (depending upon how one defines "rejoining teammates for workouts"--does it mean partaking in the same on-field drills or can it also mean lifting weights in the same room?).

But I still agree with you, a grievance seems like a good bet at this point.

Blogger Michael McCann -- 6/09/2007 7:26 PM  

I have to give credit to Daunte Culpepper and his strategy. Involving the union is a tactical masterstroke and will allow him to extricate himself from the awkward situation from afar.

I'm with Rick Karcher on this one, the union should be handling all cases of grievances between teams and players anyway without agent involvement - this is, first off, the union's raison d'ĂȘtre and secondly, it should prevent later allegations of tampering or impropriety on the account of the team or the agent. Union leadership and staff are trained and paid to deal with these specific issues. The bonus of this approach is that is also creates precedent for future similar cases and will, hopefully, prevent such ridiculous situations from arising. Both the NFLPA and NFL teams should have a greater understanding of what can and cannot be done in such situations and that cannot but help future player-team relationships.

I still can't quite believe the Dolphins have used this tactic nor understand the logic of dumping a 30-year-old QB with a bum knee for a 37-year-old QB with head injuries. I wish I could get Cam Cameron to explain this to me.

Anonymous Jason Chung -- 6/09/2007 9:57 PM  

Why not just name him the 4th team QB and tell him that in that role he won't be getting many (or any) reps in team drills?

Blogger Hongmi -- 6/10/2007 9:23 AM  

Along a similar line of players without agent representation, Gilbert Arenas announced that he will opt out of his contract after next season to become a free agent. Moreover, he isn't looking to fill his representation void after he parted ways with his agent last September.

Straight from today's Washington Post article (

"Arenas also said he does not plan on hiring an agent. He parted ways with agent Dan Fegan last summer.

'I don't need an agent,' Arenas said. 'I can do all of this research myself.'

According to the collective bargaining agreement, the most the Wizards could offer Arenas this summer is a three-year extension worth between $60 million and $70 million, but the deal wouldn't kick in until his original contract expires following the 2008-09 season."

I guess unlike Daunte, Gilbert has the salary scales in the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement to help with any negotiating. (I guess it doesn't take an agent to help Gilbert ask for the maximum allowed under the CBA.) However, if Gilbert's knee injury was as bad as Daunte's, I bet he would probably seek representation - if he chose to even opt out of his contract.

Blogger rosco -- 6/10/2007 8:43 PM  

Here's something Daunte can't do on his own that an agent could: broker a trade to another team.

This is increasingly common, especially with disgruntled players. I saw it in action last summer when, for a modern Plimpton book I'm writing about the NFL, I kicked ``for'' the Denver Broncos.

Agents work the phones, call GMs, propose trades and then let the GMs sort it out if they're interested.

Anonymous stefan fatsis -- 6/11/2007 10:27 AM  

I am surprised that the grievance wasn't the first option.

Guess that's one of the benefits of having an agent; instant research and recommendations on league policy.

Blogger Jarrett Carter -- 6/28/2007 11:07 PM  

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