Tuesday, June 27, 2017

antoine winfield

We have already established with pretty good detail that Rick Spielman’s decision to release veteran cornerback, and locker room leader, Antoine Winfield was not a popular one when it came to the fan base.

As it turns out, according to NFL Network‘s Ian Rappaport, the move did not sit well with some “Vikings people” within Winter Park either.

One person told Rappaport that “It’s a move backwards” and he says some “aren’t thrilled” with Spielman’s decision.

I feel like I’ve already beat this topic to death, but I would still like to note that as of Thursday afternoon right tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith remain unsigned, which is significant because the decision to break their budget for Phil Loadholt was cited as a reason for Winfield’s abrupt departure.  In fact, other decent offensive tackles are currently available such as Jake Long and Eric Winston, not to mention the many options available in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Rick Spielman has a reputation in Minnesota for letting the market establish itself before making hasty, big-money decisions so it was surprising to see him cave to Loadholt’s demands even if the player was threatening to join the division rival Chicago Bears.

However, recent events are making me wonder if Spielman isn’t overvaluing the players he has had a hand in bringing to Minnesota.  The most recent evidence of this is that the Vikings quickly snatched receiver Jerome Simpson to a one year deal worth $2.1 million.  Not only is that a raise from his 2012 salary of $2 million, but Spielman gave Simpson a $500,000 signing bonus, and a $250,000 workout bonus, according to 1500 ESPN.  The Vikings are betting on Simpson staying healthy (he did pass his physical) and producing far more significantly than he did last season.

Simpson’s pay day comes despite the fact that he never produced more than 50 receiving yards in any game last season and has caught the same amount of touchdown passes from Christian Ponder as I have:  zero.

It is not a huge surprise that fans aren’t a fan of Rick Spielman’s approach to free agency, as he is usually going to shy away from the splashy instant gratification moves that fans love to see, but his decision to cut Winfield is putting everything else he does under a microscope and doing the math to see just why exactly his plan had to involve that questionable decision.

And, according to Rappaport’s report, some within Winter Park are looking pretty closely themselves.

“Look forward to the Draft.”

“Look forward to the Draft.”

“Look forward to the Draft.”

I have to keep repeating these words to myself through these opening days of free agency because, to be honest, I am not really enjoying myself so far.  The latest bit of information, which I buried in my previous post but will highlight seperately here, is sure to cause some excitement from Vikings fans because of the name value.

I am not one of those fans that is excited.

The Vikings have reportedly been in contact with Chicago Bears longtime middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune who cites a Vikings source.  Urlacher is reportedly seeking a salary in the range of $5,5 million.

Given the price tag and his age of 34 it really seems odd that the Vikings would be interested, especially in light of their recent release of Antoine Winfield, but despite their obvious need for a new starting middle linebacker.  Urlacher, who will actually be 35 in May, has proven to be one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game, but his best days certainly appear to have come and gone.

Maybe the Vikings are just trying to drive up the price for Urlacher, as the Bears are still trying to retain their local hero, as payback for the Bears doing the same to them with right tackle Phil Loadholt.

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.

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