It's no secret that the San Francisco 49ers are in trouble at quarterback. In their preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints, supposed starter Alex Smith went just two of seven for 10 yards. His backup, rookie Colin Kaepernick, didn't fare much better; while he went nine of 19 for 117 yards, he also threw two interceptions and no touchdowns.
The Saints went on to win, 24-3, and the talk in San Francisco immediately turned to the quarterbacks. Namely, how to make an improvement at the position.
Enter Daunte Culpepper?
Culpepper, currently 34 years old, has 2,016 completions for 24,153 yards, 149 touchdowns, 106 interceptions, 2,652 rushing yards and 34 rushing touchdowns under his NFL belt. He was drafted in the first round of the 1999 draft by the Minnesota Vikings, and went on to have a record 2004 season with the team, setting a single-season record for most total quarterback yardage in NFL history, at 5,123.
The following season, he suffered a severe knee injury, tearing his ACL, PCL and MCL. After scandal and contract issues, he left the Vikings and went on to play for the Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders and, in 2009, the Detroit Lions, and never again saw the same success he had with the Vikings.
Though he went on to play in 2010 for the UFL's Sacramento Mountain Lions, this does not mean that Culpepper can still be a good fit in the NFL. And though 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh invited him to work out yesterday, this does not mean the 49ers should for a single moment consider Culpepper an answer—let alone the answer—to their quarterback problems.
Culpepper's injury-plagued statistical slide aside, what he brings to the table for the 49ers is certainly more famine than feast.
His injury has rendered him less mobile. His veteran status does not mean that leadership necessarily follows. If Harbaugh is looking for a veteran quarterback to help guide the young Smith and Kaepernick, Culpepper is not the right choice.
His presence on the team won't teach them about winning; instead, it teaches them that Harbaugh may just think the two of them are less talented than a guy who had his best season seven years and one right leg ago.
What the 49ers need is to take advantage of the youth on their roster, rather than view it as a liability. There will be no stability in the 2011 season if Harbaugh chooses to bring in a retread quarterback rather than developing the two young men he currently has.
Smith has been hamstrung by a rotating series of coaches while on the San Francisco roster; he has seen six offensive coordinators and four head coaches since joining the team. It is unclear, therefore, if the 2005 overall first-round draft pick is even a bust; no quarterback could withstand that many personnel shifts and come out with any sense of stability in his passing game.
Kaepernick is an excellent quarterback who would benefit from increased snaps and further development. While the ship may have sadly sailed on Smith being the 49ers quarterback of the future (through no fault of his own), Kaepernick has a chance to make good on that old idiom.
Adding Culpepper to the 49ers roster would be a step backwards; the team needs to focus on building at the quarterback position. The most important thing that a head coach can give his quarterbacks is trust—and for all the things adding Culpepper can do for, and to, the 49ers, increasing trust isn't one of them.