Self flagellation is all the rage these days; we question ourselves, in all things and from all angles. In the arena of revisionist history, the Miami Dolphins made a boneheaded move in 2006 when they passed on San Diego quarterback Drew Brees in free agency, instead opting for Minnesota Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper, via trade.
Except, they didn’t. If we look at the careers of both quarterbacks, Culpepper was head and shoulders above Brees, both literally and figuratively speaking. At 6’4”, 255 pounds, Culpepper was ‘Big Ben’ Roethlisberger before there was a Big Ben in the NFL. Culpepper made the Pro Bowl in three of his first six seasons and also broke Dan Marino’s league record for most total yards by a quarterback in 2004. Before his catastrophic knee injury in ought-five, Culpepper was well on his way to becoming one of the best quarterbacks the National Football League has ever seen.
Although Brees is a twelve time Pro Bowler, he didn’t make his first one until 2004, and the team that drafted him, the San Diego Chargers, drafted the man who would replace him as their starting quarterback, Philip Rivers, that Spring. What’s more, Brees had just had surgery on his throwing shoulder when the Dolphins were in the process of deciding whether to pursue him or Culpepper in 2006. There have been literally dozens of quarterbacks with bad knees who have performed at a high level over the years, but the track record for a quarterback coming back from shoulder surgery and being the same player he was -- much less substantially better -- is far from reassuring. I can remember praying nightly during the Summer of 2006 that the Dolphins would choose Culpepper over Brees as their next great quarterback, and I was ecstatic when the news broke that Miami had sent a second round pick (51st overall) to the Vikings for the rights to Culpepper. Ironically, the player Minnesota selected with the pick they acquired for Culpepper, center/guard Ryan Cook, actually played for the Dolphins in 2011, so what the Dolphins gave up to get Culpepper clearly wasn’t excessive.
Unfortunately, Daunte Culpepper was never able to fully recover from the devastating knee injury he suffered in 2005. Similar to Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow’s career ending knee injury in 1984, Culpepper tore three of the four major ligaments in his knee and was never the same again. The Dolphins, however, believed he could be the player to help turn their franchise around, and to this day, I support their decision to choose Culpepper over Brees. Now, if we want to say that they should have drafted Brees instead of slot corner Jamar Fletcher in 2001, I agree that they certainly should have, but in 2006, Culpepper was the obvious choice, and it’s about time we gave the team a break from the criticism we’ve been heaping on them for not signing Brees as a free agent that year. At the end of the day, while certainly a great player and a lock for the Hall of Fame, Drew Brees is as much a product of the fast indoor surface at the Superdome, and offensive guru Sean Payton’s system as anything else, and there is little guarantee that he would have had anything close to the career he’s had in New Orleans in Miami.