Like peace negotiators at Camp David, the Vikings shook hands Saturday and smiled with one of their key players after an offseason of uncharacteristic rabble-rousing.
Cornerback Antoine Winfield agreed to attend the team's final offseason workouts this week, a symbolic gesture that signaled a friendly accord with coach Brad Childress. Winfield was not available for comment, but agent Ashanti Webb said Childress established a consistent dialogue -- through phone calls, text messages and face-to-face meetings -- to help Winfield reach a comfort level.
"The lines of communication are more open now," Webb said.
"Antoine is a quiet and reserved guy, and Brad was in his first year as coach last season. They both just needed to know how to communicate with each other. The main thing is they were able to build up a relationship over a certain amount of time, which is needed in the player-coach relationship."
Webb said Winfield received no additional money during the process and that the six-year, $35 million contract he signed in 2004 remains intact. Winfield, whose only offseason appearance at Winter Park has been for the Vikings' mandatory minicamp June 1-3, will return Monday for an Organized Training Activity. The team's final practice is scheduled for Tuesday, after which veterans are dismissed until training camp opens July 25.
"He's had some personal things he's dealt with," Childress said, "but we're happy that we're moving on here. He's a talented veteran who puts his money where his mouth is on the playing field. Over the years, he's been a good player and a good leader."
Several players -- most notably receiver Marcus Robinson -- criticized Childress for his inconsistent interaction with them last season. Robinson termed the situation "a total lack of communication" after Childress released him on Christmas Eve.
In March, Winfield chose to stay away from the team's strength and conditioning program and was absent from OTA practices when they began May 22. Short of a boycott, Webb termed Winfield's action as a "break" from the team.
"On our end, it was the offseason," Webb said. "I know the Vikings would have loved for him to be over there. And part of Antoine wanted to be there. But sometimes you need a break. We look at it like he was just cashing in vacation time, like any other employee would."
At the conclusion of minicamp June 3, Winfield indicated he would not rejoin the team until training camp. He indicated his concern with the team's ability to compete in the short-term -- "We still have a long way to go," he said -- but would not outline his issues in detail.
Ultimately, Webb acknowledged, Winfield's desire to keep the issue private might have worked against him. Reporters and fans drew their own conclusions, and rumors circulated on every topic imaginable. ESPN reported he had requested a trade, while other outlets suggested he wanted a new contract and/or had stormed out of Winter Park in late March after an acrimonious meeting with Childress.
"There got to be this perception that it was about money or because of the Vikings' lack of offseason moves or something," Webb said. "That was not the case and has never been the case. This is the offseason. It's where people iron out their issues. Antoine is a veteran, and he needed to iron some things, some personal issues that he thought he could work out on his own.
"It ended up escalating into big news," Webb said. "I think he learned that no answer is not always the way to go, because people start putting two and two together. We started hearing that fans thought he was being a Terrell Owens type of character, and that bothered him. So we just thought we had to get this thing opened up."
The thaw began at minicamp, Webb said, and continued in the weeks thereafter.
"To me," Webb said, "this was probably the biggest offseason move, that they were able to get this thing to move forward. Antoine's happy, and it really means a lot to be able to go from coach-player to open up the line of communication to build it up where they can be a strong, unified front."
Kevin Seifert email@example.com