Tuesday, June 30, 2015

antoine winfield

When the Vikings signed veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield to a contract extension in 2009 the unique triggers in the deal, which de-escalated his salary if he were relegated to the nickel position primarily, should have been all the motivation the team’s front office needed to greatly upgrade the position and ensure Winfield stays put with a manageable salary.

Instead, the Vikings did little to add real firepower to the cornerback position and Winfield’s 2012 playing time meant his salary would be $7.25 million in 2013, which is obviously a lot to pay your average 36 year old corner.

The thing is, however, Antoine Winfield is not your average anything.

Ever since signing with the Vikings nine seasons ago, Winfield has been an example to every Vikings player to ever pass through the locker room, showing them how an NFL player ought to act off the field and how a great one ought to play on it.  He has defied logic by being the greatest tackling cornerback the NFL has ever seen despite his small stature.  He has played through emotional and physical pain.  He has neutralized some of the best running backs, wide outs, and even quarterbacks the Vikings ever played.  He has delivered speeches that resonated with his entire defense.  He has been an on-field coach and an off-field angel in the Twin Cities.  He has, almost single handedly, won some very memorable football games for us Vikings to remember and cherish forever.

His release sparked an outrage within the Viking fan community.  I tried to take emotion out of it when explaining the financial reasons for myself being upset, but still concluded that the Vikings front office was to blame.  After details of how the departure was orchestrated, however, I think the front office deserves blame for a lot more than simply the fact that Winfield was released.

Dan Wiederer of Access Vikings was the first to release details of how Winfield was informed of Rick Spielman’s decision.  Wiederer says that Winfield was at Winter Park working out on Tuesday morning when he was asked to go see Spielman in his office upstairs.  The release was described as “awkward” and “cold,” which is not terribly unusual in the business of the NFL, but it seems that this would be a situation that might warrant some extra tact.

Wiederer described Winfield as being confused and disappointed with how things played out.  Despite previous reports that indicated Winfield refused to take a pay cut to stay with the team, the report says that Winfield was never formally approached about restructuring or reducing his salary, which is why he and his agent were so taken by surprise with the move.  The report said Winfield felt like he deserved better, and all of us would likely agree with him.

Rick Spielman and the Minnesota Vikings has blown up the depth chart when it comes to wide receiver by releasing Michael Jenkins, letting Devin Aromashodu hit free agency, and trading Percy Harvin to Seattle.  They have allowed two of their starting linebackers, Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley, explore free agency.  They changed the landscape of the secondary by releasing feisty veteran Antoine Winfield.

They are also rumored to be pursuing a new backup quarterback.

One thing that is interesting, however, is that the team has opted to maintain a great deal of continuity on both the offensive line and defensive line.  Thus far, anyways.

By retaining right tackle Phil Loadholt , backup Troy Kropog, and backup center Joe Berger the Vikings have kept intact their offensive line, with the lone exception being the currently unsigned backup guard Geoff Schwartz.  Spielman declared some time ago that continuity was of value to him on the offensive line and that philosophy shows with how today has gone.  A lack of reported interest in any free agent linemen, combined with the fact that Charlie Johnson is still on the roster, shows that the Vikings don’t appear poised to make any sweeping changes in this area.

The defensive line also had potential for movement, especially in light of the shrewd move to release Winfield, as there are a number of high paid players that are on the wrong side of thirty.  Jared Allen is in the last year of his contract and Kevin Williams is not playing at the level his current salary would typically warrant.  Still, there hasn’t even been a whisper that something could be cooking in this area, and as of right now it looks like the front four will remain unchanged.

Mind you, we aren’t even half of a day into free agency and there is still potential for movement, but it is an interesting note that nothing in this area of the roster seemed to be on the checklist for Day One of free agency.

On the surface, it makes sense for a team that obviously still considers itself to be rebuilding to release a soon-to-be 36 year old cornerback that carried a $7.5 million salary.

When you state it that plainly, it is really hard to argue with the logic, and therefore it shouldn’t be considered the most unreasonable course of action to take.

Still, when the Vikings released Antoine Winfield on Tuesday I couldn’t help but be a little upset at the Vikings organization, even while dismissing the emotional attachment I think most Vikings fans felt for the powerful little cornerback.

In 2009, Winfield agreed to a unique contract with the Vikings that was lauded, by both the team and the player, as a deal that would see him retire as a Viking.  The contract reportedly contained de-escalators (or escalators, depending on how you look at it) that greatly reduced Winfield’s salary in the final years of the deal.  The mechanism was based off of playing time.

The thought was that as Winfield got older the Vikings could relegate him to playing strictly out of the nickel, where he has always been at his best, and elongate his career while also paying him accordingly.

Instead, the Vikings used Winfield’s presence as an excuse to not seriously upgrade the cornerback position and constantly had to rely on Winfield to step into a starting role, seemingly week after week, which is how he triggered the pay raise.  During the time since Winfield signed this contract the most they invested into a cornerback was when they used a second rounder on Chris Cook, a known character risk, who has missed plenty of time with legal issues and injuries.

So, when I heard that Winfield refused to take a pay cut to stay with the Vikings, I was not surprised nor could I blame him.  His 2013 salary was a result of what he had done in the past, it was money he had already earned by being the great player we all know him to be, and this is one of those  rare cases when a player should feel entitled to money has not yet been paid.

Winfield gave us a ton of great memories over the years, including delivering a speech to his teammates last season that was cited as a reason for the defense playing better down the stretch, and he will be greatly missed.  The Vikings front office had an opportunity to improve their secondary and keep Winfield at a reasonable price.

Instead, they still have major question marks at the position, and Winfield had to be cut for cap reasons.

That is one to put in the “fail” column.

Adam has been absolutely killing it with his ‘Draft Target’ posts. Come April 25th, there will likely be no one the readers here at VT haven’t heard of the way he’s been rolling these things out. But I can’t let him have all the fun, right? Plus, I need to get my studying on as in a few days I will be representing Vikings Territory for the second time in #MockOne (Don’t know what #MockOne is? Check it out here.)

Xavier Rhodes. This is a name you may want to get familiar with in the next couple months headed up to the draft. The lengthy Cornerback from Florida St. has definitely began to catch the eyes of draftniks out there. And with a stellar performance today at the final day of the 2013 NFL Combine, he is likely to attract even more attention.

Rhodes (22) graduated from Norland High School in his hometown of Miami, Florida. In 2009, Xavier only played in two games, one for Boston College and the other for Georgia Tech, due to a hand injury that kept him from participating the majority of the season. In 2010, he moved to FSU where he impressed “as a promising young star” and won various rookie and freshman awards. In his next two years at Florida State, Rhodes solidified his role as one of the best corners in the nation and was on watch lists for both the Bednarik and Thorpe Awards.

Read any scouting report for Xavier Rhodes and I promise you’ll find the word ‘big’ within the first thirty words. Rhodes measured in at the combine at a whopping 6’1″ tall and 210 lbs. His size and large frame allow him to be an excellent press corner who is always pressuring the receiver. Don’t be mislead by his size, though. Rhodes ran a 4.43 40 at the combine today. He also had the highest vertical jump and broad jump of any defensive backs at the combine showing great leg strength and explosion. This ability to get off the ground coupled with his lengthy stature allows him to compete for balls with receivers. Rhodes is also well-known as being one of the best (if not the best) cover corners in the nation.The only real, consistent knock on Rhodes is that he isn’t amazing in run support and could work on his tackling.

There are bigger needs for the Vikings than Cornerback, no doubt about it. But, there are a few reasons why I think this pick would be really good for the Vikings.

First and foremost, I’m not completely sold on taking a wide receiver late in the first round (yet…). To me, the value just isn’t there and you could likely find someone comparable to the receivers who will be first off the board in the second and third rounds. Secondly, I really like what our secondary would look like with a guy like Rhodes added to the squad. Picture it – a physical, big-framed giant on each side, Cook and Rhodes (if Cook can stay healthy…), Antoine Winfield and Josh Robinson in the mix on occassion and the bruiser Harrison Smith lurking around in the backfield waiting to destroy someone. Doesn’t that sound awesome?! I just think the value is there at Cornerback with a guy like Rhodes, especially when this year’s draft is so deep at other defensive positions.

Xavier Rhodes could be a player who makes the Vikings secondary one to be feared for years to come in the NFC North – a division that is ripe with good quarterback play and big receivers.

If Xavier Rhodes is available when the Vikings are on the clock come April 25th (and that’s a big ‘if’ considering his stellar performance at the combine) it will be very interesting to see if the Vikings surprise people and go with the Florida State DB.

Check out the video below for some good tape on Rhodes. And feel free to leave some comments with some guys that you think would be worth looking at in our “Draft Target” series.

It has been awhile since the Minnesota Vikings have gone into a season with the talent and depth at cornerback that they currently have.  Still, they could use some help at the position, and there are a ton of potential free agents to choose from if they want to dip into that pool.

Antoine Winfield is a possible cap casualty, although it seems unlikely, and A.J. Jefferson is a restricted free agent.  Thus, there are no pressing vacancies at the position at this point, but an NFL team can never have too many good cornerbacks and should never stop looking for upgrades.

Top Tier

Despite the lengthy list of free agent cornerbacks, I am not sure that any belong in this category, but I feel most strongly that Leodis McKelvin out of Buffalo has the highest ceiling.  Plus, he is the most likely to actually hit the open market since Buffalo has so many pending free agents.  He has been pretty solid as a spot starter and provides excellent skills on special teams, and I think he could compete for a starting job across from Chris Cook while also helping out the special teams unit.

Keenan Lewis was very solid for Pittsburgh as a starter in 2012 and could start for most NFL teams, including the Vikings.  Meanwhile, Miami’s Sean Smith underachieved for most of last season, but there is little doubt he still possesses the ability to play at a very high level in this league.

Get Social

2,731FansLike
5,196FollowersFollow