The Vikings’ hopes of reeling Antoine Winfield back to Winter Park have officially been dashed. The 35-year-old cornerback agreed to a one-year deal with the Seahawks on Friday, ending his month-long exploration through free agency.
Winfield began a visit in Seattle on Tuesday and apparently liked what he heard from General Manager John Schneider, coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. But it was not an easy decision. The Vikings had made a significant push to bring Winfield back and it took until Friday for a deal to be finalized with the Seahawks.
"It was a very tough decision for me because of the relationships that I have in Minnesota," Winfield told ESPN's Josina Anderson. "I've been there nine years. I've had some really great coaches, teammates and fans there. I'm very grateful to the Vikings organization for my experience."
Winfield had made it known since being released by the Vikings on March 12 that he was looking to find an ideal fit and latch on with a team in position to contend for a Super Bowl. Seattle certainly fits that bill.
The Seahawks already have two outstanding outside cornerbacks in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Now they can add Winfield to the mix as a slot corner and veteran leader.
After nine seasons with the Vikings, Winfield joins a Seattle team that was an eyelash away from reaching the NFC Championship last season and has since added some big-name talent in its quest to take the next step. The Seahawks acquired receiver Percy Harvin in a blockbuster trade last month and then struck two days later by signing free agent defensive end Cliff Avril
The Seattle defense ranked second in the NFL against the pass in 2012 and will hope Winfield still has some juice left as he enters his 15th season. Winfield was as reliable as ever last season with the Vikings, steadying a young secondary. According to team stats, he contributed 110 tackles, 11 of those for loss and intercepted three passes. His professionalism and positive energy were frequently lauded by both teammates and the Vikings’ coaching staff during the team’s surprising push into the NFC playoffs.
As head coach Leslie Frazier noted last month: "He was the glue. The way that he was in our meeting rooms, at practice, his participation in the offseason program. He was one of those guys who had not been around a lot in the offseason [previously]. And he was at everything a year ago. So his influence, you can't put a dollar figure on that. It made a big difference on our season and in the development of a lot of players as well."
Still, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman made the executive decision to cut Winfield last month in the hour before free agency began, needing to clear salary cap room that the cornerback’s $7.25 million salary for 2013 was clogging up.
The Vikings then spent the first week of free agency re-signing seven of their in-house free agents, most notably right tackle Phil Loadholt, fullback Jerome Felton and linebacker Erin Henderson. The organization also signed receiver Greg Jennings and quarterback Matt Cassel.
According to a source, before being cut Winfield was never formally offered an opportunity to restructure his contract and initially felt blindsided by the Vikings’ decision, news given to him on a day he had gone to the team’s Winter Park facility for a routine workout.
A few hours after releasing Winfield, Spielman said he was leaving the door open for a possible reunion. And Leslie Frazier reached out to Winfield on several occasions to express his feelings and appreciation for Winfield’s talent and leadership.
But the veteran cornerback was certainly confused by the mixed messages from an organization that didn’t feel he was worth keeping around at a high price but was still asking him to consider a return shortly after.
Winfield began testing the open market when free agency began and had one other visit with the Redskins. In Seattle, it turns out, he found the fit he was seeking. ESPN reported Winfield’s deal with Seattle to be worth $3 million. And at the very least, Winfield’s move slammed shut the door Spielman had promised to keep open.