Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said he wanted "to leave the door open" for cornerback Antoine Winfield's return.
Whether the 14-year veteran cornerback, who had rejected the hypothetical notion of having to accept a pay cut, would choose to walk back through that door is, obviously, another matter.
That's the question of the day since it now appears that Winfield wasn't even presented with a restructured deal before he was released.
Either way, Spielman said the Vikings will be OK at cornerback in 2013. The top three corners would be 2012 third-round pick Josh Robinson, A.J. Jefferson, who's a restricted free agent, and Chris Cook, a promising 2010 second-round pick but a guy who has had a hard time staying on the field.
"We feel confident the way Josh has developed, and tendering A.J. Jefferson, and having Chris Cook," Spielman said today during a news conference. "And we have a couple other guys we want to look at as well."
Then Spielman surprised reporters by saying Winfield isn't out of the team's plans entirely. Of course, it wasn't as surprising as Spielman cutting the 35-year-old corner an hour or so earlier rather than pay him the $7.25 million he had left on the final year of his contract.
"By no means do we want to shut out Antoine," Spielman said. "We hopefully want to have the door open for his return, if that’s possible."
Spielman said Winfield's release wasn't based on performance. Or his locker room presence. Winfield remains -- or remained -- one of the team's best defensive players and leaders.
"Antoine played very well last year," Spielman said. "He’s probably one of those players who defied odds for his age, what he did for our football team last year. There’s no question what Antoine does for our football team on the field and off the field as well.
"It was a very, extremely hard decision to make. Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep the door open for him. We’ll just have to see."
Spielman said he spoke with Winfield today. He wouldn't discuss the details of what was said, so at this point we have no indication one way or the other whether Winfield is open to return.
Obviously, since he resisted a pay cut to stay on the team, he's not likely to accept one until he's shopped around a bit. And the guess is he'd choose a comparable contract with another team with a chance to make the playoffs rather than return to the team that cut him.
"I definitely want to keep the door open for Antoine to potentially return," Spielman said. "But we have to make all the pieces fit into the puzzle as well."
Spielman confirmed the Percy Harvin trade and the re-signing of tackle Phil Loadholt. He also said the team is still wrapping up a deal to re-sign receiver Jerome Simpson and has "four or five" things going on when it comes to trying to re-sign some of the team's other free agents.
Asked if he thinks the team will be able to compete this year, Spielman said, "We think we’re going to compete next year. There’s no doubt about that because we were a playoff team last year. And by keeping your own and continuing to build through the draft, and the success we’ve have the past couple years with the draft -- and we feel very strong about this draft class coming up -- we feel that this is an approach and a philosophy that is showing success."
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