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Culpepper says he's not on trade block

By Sean Jensen

Knight Ridder Newspapers

INDIANAPOLIS -- Daunte Culpepper said Thursday he was assured by Vikings owner Zygi Wilf that the team has not discussed trading the quarterback with other teams.

In a statement he released via e-mail, Culpepper said he and Wilf talked by telephone Tuesday.

"He told me that the Vikings have not yet spoken to other teams about trading me," Culpepper said. "I shared my disappointment with the lack of communication and the false reports about me demanding more money coming out of Minnesota. I have requested further talks so that we can explore options for the future."

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Wilf, through a team spokesman, declined comment. Although the Vikings refuse to comment about the trade speculation, Culpepper's re-marks Thursday conflict with numerous published reports.

Several have said the Vikings have contacted at least two clubs about trading Culpepper, and several also have reported that Culpepper sought a raise from the Vikings this offseason. The Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens have been mentioned as potential trade partners.

In his statement, Culpepper also said he would consider moving the date -- March 17 -- that his $6 million roster bonus is due in order to help the team.

"I have made a good faith gesture toward the organization by offering to move my roster bonus around if it will help clear more cap space to sign free agents," Culpepper said. "If I am not traded, I want to help coach (Brad) Childress make a serious run for the championship this year."

The Vikings already have about $25 million in salary-cap space, among the most in the NFL. Culpepper said he realized that his contract includes no more guarantees since he tore three of four ligaments in his right knee in October.

"With all the discussion about me being traded or cut has helped me realize that the contract I have ran out of guarantees the day I was injured," Culpepper said. "Therefore each year they pay you to play is a gift. I expect that if there are no changes to my present contract, then I should prepare for a year-by-year commitment. When I am ready to hit the field this year, wherever it may be, I plan on being better than ever and enjoying the ride."

Culpepper's future was a hot topic at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. "I think they definitely should shop him and get him out of the division," Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "I don't know if that is the case or not. I just know he's an excellent football player. He's caused us to stay up quite a bit trying to defend him."

San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan was asked if he was surprised that Culpepper or a quarterback of his caliber might be being shopped.

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"In some cases, yes," Nolan said. "Everyone's situation around the league is different what they envision their football team to look like going forward whenever you have a coaching change. Obviously, there are a lot of teams in the NFL that would love to have him on their football team."

Former Vikings offensive coordinator Steve Loney was diplomatic when asked about the possibility of Culpepper being traded. Loney spoke glowingly of Culpepper, saying, "Daunte was nothing other than a hard worker."

Loney said he is certain that, given Culpepper's nature, that the quarterback is on schedule or ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation.

Meanwhile several teammates pushed to keep Culpepper, like offensive left tackle Bryant McKinne.

"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?"

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Defensive tackle Kevin Williams said of a possible Culpepper trade, "It would definitely be a big loss for our team because of his competitiveness and his leadership."

A Vikings spokesman declined comment, and Culpepper did not respond to an interview request for this story.

Cornerback Antoine 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."

Tight end Jermaine iggins 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."

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