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Vikings Cut QB Cunningham

June 2, 2000

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) _ Randall Cunningham, who refused a big pay cut to return as the Minnesota Vikings’ starting quarterback, was released by the team Friday.

The top-rushing quarterback in NFL history, Cunningham was benched just 5 1/2 games into his $28 million contract extension last season. He was replaced by Jeff George, who went 9-3 as a starter and guided the Vikings into the playoffs, where they lost to St. Louis.

George turned down a minimal offer from the Vikings and signed with Washington, leaving Daunte Culpepper, who hardly played as a rookie last year, as Minnesota’s starting quarterback.

Cunningham received a $1 million roster bonus three months ago after refusing to tear up his contract and play for a little more than the NFL minimum of $440,000 this season.

He will count $1.83 million against the team’s salary cap. The team will use the $1.5 million it saved by cutting him to sign nine draft picks.

``Randall did an outstanding job for us in his three seasons with the organization,″ coach Dennis Green said. ``He was a major contributor in us getting to the playoffs in each of the last three seasons and we wish him all the best in the future.″

Cunningham, 36, who serves as his own agent, insists he still has a future in the NFL.

The Vikings lost George to Washington when he refused to accept a one-year, $500,000 contract after his great season. The Vikings also courted Dan Marino, who eventually retired from the Miami Dolphins.

After offering the starting quarterback job to George, Marino and Cunningham, Green finally handed it to Daunte Culpepper last year’s first-round draft pick, and signed Bubby Brister as his primary backup. Green has been heavily critized for drafting Culpepper ahead of Jevon Kearse, who went on to be the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year for Tennessee.

Cunningham was an unexpected success in 1998, when he replaced an injured Brad Johnson and threw for 34 touchdowns as the Vikings went 15-1 before being upset by Atlanta in the NFC title game.

Without Johnson and coaches Chip Myers and Brian Billick last season, however, Cunningham looked lost and the Vikings stumbled to a 2-4 start.

Cunningham never publicly complained about his demotion and George credited him with being a model backup. Yet, when the season was over, Cunningham said he could still start _ just not for the kind of money the Vikings were talking about.

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