The popular, productive lineman is let go to make room for Anthony McFarland.
By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 22, 2000
TAMPA -- Bucs defensive tackle Brad Culpepper was driving with his wife, Monica, to dinner around 9 p.m. Monday when he received an unexpected phone call from the team.
In a move that was as unappetizing to Culpepper as it likely is to be to Tampa Bay fans, the Bucs released their popular starting tackle Monday.
|[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Brad Culpepper had one tackle and one assist in his final Bucs performance Sunday at New England. "I wasn't ready to leave here," he said.
pparently unable to strike a trade for Culpepper, 31, the Bucs waived him to promote second-year pro Anthony McFarland to the role of a starter.
Although McFarland had not taken any repetitions with the first-team defense during training camp, he was pushing the ninth-year veteran for playing time and the team may have felt pressure to get their former first-round pick on the field.
Minutes after meeting with coach Tony Dungy and the defensive staff, a stunned and saddened Culpepper met with reporters in a conference room at One Buc Place.
"It's hard for me to look at it as a fan. I'm not impartial. But yeah, I think it's a mistake ... I wasn't ready to leave here," Culpepper said.
"But by no means is my football career over. I feel as good as I've ever felt and I'm nine years in. You know, I still can be productive for this year and couple more."
As an unrestricted free agent, Culpepper is free to negotiate with any team and it would not be surprising to see him land in the NFC Central with Minnesota.
Culpepper had started all 61 games he played in since Dungy arrived in 1996 and ranks fourth on the Bucs' all-time sack list with 33. He led the team in quarterback takedowns in '98 with nine. In fact, his 231/2 sacks in the past three seasons is second on the team only to Warren Sapp, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, who has 30 in the same period.
Although McFarland has played well during the preseason, Culpepper said there was no indication that he his job was in jeopardy.
"Not particularly," said Culpepper. "I've taken all the first-team reps. But you know, when they drafted the first-round pick. You know, he's a guy who's talented and they feel he's ready to step up and be a starter in this league. Whether he is or not, time will tell. I think he's a good player. I'm not knocking Anthony McFarland. He's a good player, I hope he does really well."
But Culpepper becomes the second starter the Bucs have lost since last season off the defense, joining linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who signed with Jacksonville as a free agent. In that case, the Bucs opted to go with a younger player, third-year pro Jamie Duncan.
"And then you've got to wonder a little bit about the defense losing its middle linebacker and the noseguard," Culpepper said. "We've been good for many years, and the reason for that is we're good athletes, we play hard and there's good chemistry as well. It'll be tough. It'll be tough on me, probably tough on them.
SPORTS POLL: Is Booger McFarland ready to join the Bucs' defense in place of the now-waived Brad Culpepper? Vote
"I don't know. It's hard to tell. I think Jamie (Duncan) is an outstanding player. But I was in Minnesota and they started dissecting that defense and their defense now is not what it used to be. I'm sure they're trying to get it back to what it was. You take away some players, and maybe the players that step in are as good of athletes or players, but for some reason they don't mesh together as well. It's hard to tell. Maybe they will. I hope for my friends on this team they do."
Bucs officials were not available for comment Monday night, choosing instead to release a statement from Dungy.
"Brad has been a real good player for us for a number of years and this was a very difficult decision," Dungy said. "We wanted to do this now to give Brad every opportunity to hook on with another football team."
It's the second time in his nine-year career that Culpepper has been released, and ironically, both times Dungy pulled the trigger. The Bucs claimed Culpepper off waivers in '95 from the Vikings after Dungy cut him to keep Roosevelt Nix.
"They want to go in a different direction. It's not the first time Tony has done it to me," Culpepper said.
Even so, Culpepper wondered if it was a hoax when he received a call from Mark Dominik, the Bucs pro personnel director.
"Well, you wonder if it's legitimate. Mark Dominik actually called me and he was real professional about it. He said, "I don't know how to tell you this, I don't know how to start.' I knew what he was talking about right then. I've been around long enough."
Culpepper said he will miss the comraderie with teammates like Sapp and safety John Lynch. He also said it will be hard for him to leave Tampa Bay and a possible Super Bowl contender.
"If in fact that does happen, I'll look and say, "Boy, I could've been a part of it,' " Culpepper said. "And we came close last year. But it's a long journey and there's a little bit of luck that goes into it and a lot of hard work. I'm not saying this team won't do it because obviously the parts are there. But it's a long season. And there's a lot of things that can happen. But if it should happen and the Bucs go to the Super Bowl and I'm not there playing against them, I'll be sad. But I'll be happy for my friends.
"It'll be tough. I enjoy the community. I think I'll make my home here in Tampa when I'm done playing ball. It's kind of strange. It's a bit of a whirlwind right now. I've got radio shows and TV shows and all kinds of gigs working that I guess will be eliminated now because nobody is going to want to know what the Saskatchewan Rough Rider is thinking."
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