Domino effect


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Jan 22, 2006
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Domino effect

Don Banks,

With two bold-headline moves on Tuesday, suddenly there's so much clarity where there was once only confusion on the NFL's quarterback carousel. The result was a ripple effect that wound up being felt as far away as San Diego is from Miami.

Two quarterbacks, both with question marks hanging over their heads due to health issues, have new homes. And because of it, here's what we now know in the wake of Daunte Culpepper's trade to Miami and Drew Brees' whirlwind courtship and commitment to the New Orleans Saints:

• Brees, the quarterback with a chip on that injured shoulder of his, just found the one entire team in the NFL with a chip on its shoulder: The Saints, who played through their own version of both hell and high water in 2005.

Brees looked all the world like he'd be a Dolphin, exchanging balmy San Diego for Miami's tropical climes. But the Dolphins apparently had some reservations about both his price tag ($10 million per year for six years), and the state of his injured throwing shoulder, and opted to not stay in the bidding with a Saints team that knew it had to overpay to win this auction.

Maybe now at last Brees has found a front office and a franchise willing "to lay its butt on the line'' for him, in a way Chargers decision-makers were never willing to do. But with the Dolphins seemingly poised on the cusp of the playoffs, and the Saints in a rebuilding program that mirrors their flood-ravaged community, only time will tell if Brees won this particular battle, but might have lost the war.

• Culpepper now has the fresh start he so desperately needed, and it's on him to do something with it. Can he really still be the Daunte Culpepper of 2004, when Peyton Manning was all that stood between him and the league MVP award? Or did he lose something that can never be regained amidst all the turmoil and controversy of 2005 and early 2006?

If he can, the Dolphins will field their best quarterback since Dan Marino took it to the house after the 1999 season. If he can't, missing out on Brees and paying a second rounder for Culpepper is going to hurt Miami far worse than giving up a No. 2 for Eagles reserve quarterback A.J. Feeley two years ago.

This much Culpepper has going for him in South Florida: He has a well-coached Dolphins team around him that is on the come and ready to make some noise in the Patriots-dominated AFC East, and he has a talented and creative offensive coordinator to work with in Mike Mularkey. Culpepper's greatest success in Minnesota came under the firm play-calling hand of Scott Linehan, but he floundered last season when Mike Tice and Steve Loney handled the Vikings offense. He needs direction to thrive.

• We can forget about ever seeing Southern Cal quarterback and former Heisman winner Matt Leinart in a Saints uniform. New Orleans' No. 2 pick in April's draft is officially on the market. The smart money says the No. 4 New York Jets -- who covet Leinart -- will come after it, perhaps offering unwanted defensive end John Abraham as part of a trade package.

If Leinart is taken No. 2 by the Jets, the Saints might find themselves at No. 4, staring at the prospects of selecting the draft's best defensive player, defensive end Mario Williams of North Carolina State. With or without Abraham being involved, New Orleans would have itself a superb replacement for departed free agent Darren Howard, who just signed with Philadelphia.

I'm guessing if you're new Saints head coach Sean Payton, Brees and Williams sounds a lot better than Leinart and waiting for a young quarterback to develop.

• Minnesota is Brad Johnson's team for the foreseeable future. Personally I think the Vikings got a bit lucky in getting a second-round pick for Culpepper, whose market didn't look all that promising after Oakland withdrew from the bidding. But Minnesota's real stroke of fortune was signing Johnson last offseason, when he was among a number of veteran quarterbacks looking for work as a backup.

Johnson won his first six starts in Culpepper's absence, and went 7-2 overall, nearly guiding the Vikings into the playoffs after their wretched 2-5 start. New Minnesota head coach Brad Childress has believed all along this spring that it was Johnson -- who's familiar with his version of the West Coast offense -- and not Culpepper who gave the Vikings their best chance to win in 2006.

Look for Minnesota to now try and identify its quarterback of the future in the second or third round of this year's draft. Alabama's Brodie Croyle or Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst are two names the Vikings will be studying. But for now, Johnson, who'll turn 38 in September, has one more chance to write himself another late-career success story.

• San Diego, the franchise that gave us Ryan Leaf, has rolled the dice once again on the quarterback front. It's now definitively Philip Rivers' team, his town, and his time. With Brees gone, Rivers will be under the microscope as he attempts to replace the starter who led the Chargers to a combined 21 wins and an AFC West title in the past two years.

If Chargers general manager A.J. Smith is right about Rivers, the furor over Brees' departure will die down and be forgotten. But if Brees goes on to great things as a Saint, and Rivers struggles as the Chargers' starter, Smith's gamble will likely cost him his job. And Leaf's flop won't stand so all alone in terms of first-round failures.

• Gus Frerotte may have won his last six games as the Dolphins' starter, but it's probably one and done for him in Miami. Culpepper's arrival almost certainly means Frerotte's departure from South Florida (the two played together in Minnesota in 2003-2004). It's a tough business, Gus. But then again you know that.

And look on the bright side. We hear San Diego is in the market for a veteran backup.

• And finally, what do we make of Aaron Brooks' tenure in New Orleans, which will now come to its predictable denouement with Brees on his way to town? All that promise. And sometimes all that production. But always, always, always, the inconsistency. And the mental errors that at times defied belief.

Brooks still has a place in the NFL. But until he refines his game and levels out his performance, he's going to be somebody's backup plan, waiting for a second chance, and his next opportunity to get it right.;_y...?slug=cnnsi-dominoeffect&prov=cnnsi&type=lgns
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