For the majority of the Minnesota Vikings’ existence, the team has been looking for a long-term solution at the quarterback position. In fact, since the advent of the 16-game schedule back in 1978, the Vikings have never had a quarterback start all 16 games in back-to-back seasons.
The Vikings have taken a few swings at the idea of a “franchise quarterback” over the past few years, but have ran into a couple problems. . .those problems being that Christian Ponder wound up not being very good and Teddy Bridgewater almost had his leg fall off one day in practice when nobody touched him. But there was a time. . .back in the dark days before The Daily Norseman came online. . .that it appeared that the Vikings had found their franchise quarterback, and signed him to a ten-year contract to be that long-term answer.
And, since this is the Vikings, it ended poorly.
In the wake of the 1998 season, the Vikings traded quarterback Brad Johnson to the Washington Redskins for a handful of draft picks, including the #11 selection in the 1999 NFL Draft. With Randall Cunningham entrenched as the starter, the Vikings decided that they needed a young option to develop behind Cunningham. That quarterback wound up being Daunte Culpepper, who the Vikings drafted with that #11 pick out of the University of Central Florida.
Culpepper sat behind Cunningham and Jeff George in his rookie season, and after reportedly attempting to bring Dan Marino in to start for the 2000 season, Dennis Green turned the reins over to Culpepper. He responded by helping the Vikings to reach the NFC Championship Game that season. . .we won’t talk about what happened in that game, because I don’t want to. Like you don’t already know.
That was followed by a couple of rough seasons for Culpepper. He tore an ACL in 2001 and missed the final few games of the season, and in 2002 threw a league-leading 23 interceptions and lost numerous fumbles. Still, the Vikings had seen enough to hitch their wagon to Culpepper for the long term.
Before the start of the 2003 season, the Vikings signed Culpepper to a ten-year contract for the then-astronomical sum of. . .$102 million. Or roughly twenty percent of what Patrick Mahomes just received from the Kansas City Chiefs on his ten-year deal.
Culpepper responded with two of the better passing seasons in Vikings history, including a 2004 season where he threw for 39 touchdowns and set an NFL record for total yardage for a player in a season with 5,123. Despite the numbers that Culpepper put up that year, the defense was terrible enough where the team had to basically be dragged kicking and screaming to an 8-8 record and backing into the playoffs on the season’s final day.
If you want some perspective on just how good Culpepper’s 2004 season was, this post from Pro Football Reference basically sums it up.
Of course, we know the 2005 season was a disaster for the Vikings, especially for Culpepper. He threw a ton of interceptions to start the season, and when it appeared that he might have been turning the corner, he got his knee turned to mush on a rushing attempt against the Carolina Panthers. He missed most of the 2005 season and clashed with new head coach Brad Childress over his rehab in 2006. In the end, the Vikings wound up trading him to the Miami Dolphins. He lasted just one season in Miami and wound up bouncing around the league (and even to the now-defunct UFL) before going into retirement.
Perhaps someday there will come a time when the Vikings draft another young quarterback with a high pick, or anywhere for that matter, and develop him to the point where he can actually be the answer for the team in the long-term. It’s not that they haven’t tried. . .but, as has been the case with a lot of things in Vikings history, they’ve all ended pretty badly.