Hartman: Vikings might cut ties with veterans

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 9, 2012 - 6:58 AM

As the team retools from a tough 3-13 season, older players -- even longtime contributors -- could leave.

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Antoine Winfield, right, still has two years left on his contract with the Vikings.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Just as Twins fans watched familiar names such as Joe Nathan, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer change uniforms for the 2012 season, many longtime Vikings players also will be departing this season.

Even though the Vikings have about $10 million in salary cap space, they aren't going to pay a veteran offensive guard like Steve Hutchinson $7 million in the last year of his contract, even though he has made some great contributions since being signed away from Seattle.

No doubt Hutchinson still has some good football in his body, but he has, for the first time in his career, been sidelined by different injuries. The Vikings will try to sign him for less money.

E.J. Henderson, who has been an outstanding linebacker for nine years, is an unrestricted free agent and earned $9 million last season. Look for the Vikings to let Henderson test the free-agent market, and they will do the same thing with tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Cornerback Cedric Griffin, a six-year veteran, is no longer the player he was before he had surgery on both knees. His future certainly is in doubt with the team.

Then you have cornerback Antoine Winfield, who has spent eight of his 13 years in the NFL with the Vikings and who is signed for two more seasons.

Winfield's contract calls for $6 million in base pay for those two years. The big question is whether the Vikings will stay with that contract because one of the real weak spots on the roster is the defensive backfield. When healthy, something he hasn't been for the past two seasons, Winfield is one of the best cover cornerbacks and tacklers in the league.

Winfield suffered a collarbone injury against the Packers on Oct. 23 and didn't play the rest of the season, causing a real problem for a secondary that, even with Winfield in the lineup, was average.

Winfield stayed in town during the offseason to rehab his injury and has been treated by Vikings trainer Eric Sugarman most every day. Winfield says the collarbone injury has healed and now the goal is to get the collarbone as strong as or even stronger than before he suffered the injury.

"It's good, the collarbone feels fine," Winfield said the other day. "I'm just over here rehabbing every day, trying to get my strength back. I'm getting stronger every day. You can't put a timetable on it."

Winfield said he hasn't heard whether the Vikings are planning to renegotiate his contract.

"I hope so," said Winfield when asked if he is looking forward to another season with the Vikings. "That's why I'm over here working out every day, trying to get my body to be able to go through a long season."

Of the 15 unrestricted free agents on the team, one the Vikings want to sign is quarterback Sage Rosenfels, who joined team late in the season and whom the Vikings want on board to work with young quarterbacks Cristian Ponder and Joe Webb.

Rosenfels is living in Denver and would join the team here to work with the quarterbacks once he signs a contract.

Big victory for Gophers

Thursday's Star Tribune sports page had a timely feature story on Gophers guard Andre Hollins, pointing out that he has been a bright spot on the team this year even though the freshman had averaged only 6.7 points and 1.6 assists a game for a team that went 6-12 in the conference.

So what happens? The freshman from Memphis steps up and scores a career-high 25 points to spark the Gophers in their 75-68 overtime victory against Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament opener on Thursday, on 10-for-17 shooting, including five three-pointers (and he didn't get a single chance at the free-throw line).

In fact, it was a strange game in that the Gophers had only 10 free-throw attempts -- Chip Armelin was 4-for-6, and Andre Ingram and Rodney Williams each was 1-for-2.

What helped the Gophers a great deal was the return of Julian Welch, who scored 11 points off the bench and provided the floor play the team missed in the Michigan State and Wisconsin games the Gophers could have won had he played.

Coach Tubby Smith has been complaining all season about the team's poor shooting, but in the victory over the Wildcats, the Gophers shot 47 percent and made 11 of 26 three-point attempts, the best they have done in the conference all year. On the other hand, the Gophers defense limited Northwestern to a .351 field-goal percentage and the same three-point shooting percentage as the Gophers.

The Gophers face Michigan on Friday in the second round of the tournament.

They played Michigan once at Ann Arbor and lost 61-56 after leading a good part of the game.

Jottings

A reader points out that both former Twin Corey Koskie and current Twin Justin Morneau played a lot of hockey in their younger days, which might have something to do with their current concussion problems. ... David Crum, associate athletics director at the U, is in charge of fundraising for men's and women's athletics. He said fundraising was way ahead of last year as of January, when $7 million had been raised, compared with $3 million at the same time in 2011.

Gophers baseball coach John Anderson said once construction of the new Siebert Field starts, the goal will be to have the infield in shape so the team can practice there this fall. The stadium that will seat 2,300 is expected to be ready for the 2013 season.

Anthony Jacobs, a senior starting defensive tackle on the 2011 Gophers football team, has a chance to be the only player on the team drafted after doing a vertical jump of 36 inches and a 5-10-15 pro agility exercise in a great time of 4 minutes, 41 seconds in the pro trials this past week at the U.

Andrew Aurich, a former all-state football player at Concordia Academy and who started in the offensive line for two years at Princeton and then was at Rutgers, has a new job with the Bucs as assistant defensive quality coach under new Bucs coach and Princeton alumnus Greg Schiano. And former Gophers and Vikings line coach Steve Loney has joined the Bucs coaching staff as an assistant offensive line coach.

Roseville native and Bucknell basketball star Mike Muscala has been named a first-team All-Patriot League player for the second year after leading the team to a conference title. Muscala averaged 18.9 points and nine rebounds per game in conference play. Also honored by the Patriot League was former MACCRAY high school standout Seth Hinrichs of Lafayette, who was named to the all-rookie squad.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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