In a surprising move, the Minnesota Vikings have decided to release former Pro Bowl caliber cornerback Antoine Winfield. The move saves the team the $7.25 million that Winfield was owed in the final year of his contract. The move comes hours before the free-agency period is set to open for the team who traded Percy Harvin and was trying to sign Phil Loadholt to an extension. With a team who has gone on record as saying they are committed to building through the draft, the release of Winfield still comes as a surprise to many fans and executives around the league.
Reportedly, the reason for Winfield’s release was that the team wanted Winfield to restructure his contract and he reportedly refused. $7.25 million for the final year of a veteran contract doesn’t seem like much, but the team must feel they need the cap room if they were willing to part with Winfield so quickly.
Winfield was seen as one of the best tackling cornerbacks of all-time and was a perennial fan favorite in Minnesota for his toughness and ability to make big plays in the passing game. His skills and speed had deteriorated over the past few seasons—likely due to age—but Winfield had found a role on this team as a nickel corner and mentor for younger cornerbacks like Josh Robinson and Chris Cook.
Over his nine seasons with the Vikings, Winfield started in 115 of the 119 games he appeared in and put up 21 interceptions, two defensive touchdowns, 11 forced fumbles and 606 tackles in the purple and gold.
The Vikings now have yet another hole in their secondary to fill as the team approaches free agency and the NFL draft in late April. One must wonder if the team is cutting salary to save up room to make a run at Mike Wallace who is reportedly seeking $15 million a year in a new contract or if the team has other big name free-agents at linebacker or cornerback that they are hoping to sign.
Whatever the story may be, the loss of Winfield will definitely be missed in the short-term for the Vikings; but long-term, this opens up playing time for younger and more agile players to step into a larger role on the team. It also puts into question where the Vikings will go with either of their two first round picks this season. Stay tuned, as the first day of free-agency always promises to bring its fair share of surprises like the Winfield release.