Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes it’s OK to gloat. Let’s get to it:
It’s a single subject sort of day, but a play that presents itself in three acts over 15 years. Depending on where you live, it’s either a tragedy or a tale of a scrappy underdog toppling a larger foe. It is the story of three athletes, when given a choice, picking the Minni-apple over the Big Apple. Let’s start in the past and work our way forward:
*In 2004, the Vikings were desperately seeking to upgrade their defensive back group. They targeted Buffalo free agent Antoine Winfield Sr. when negotiations opened, but at one point all hope seemed lost when Winfield was poised to sign with the Jets. He even skipped a scheduled flight to Minneapolis to stay in New York as negotiations neared the finish line and a contract was agreed to in principle.
But Mike Tice called in a favor to a friend with a private plane, and the Vikings whisked Winfield to Minnesota on a late night flight. The next day, Winfield signed with the Vikings — $35 million for six years, including a $10.8 million signing bonus, a slightly sweeter deal than the Jets were offering.
“I was real close [to signing with the Jets],” Winfield said at his introductory news conference in 2004. “Everything was pretty much printed out. But when it came down to it, I just wasn’t ready. I’m a man of my word. I promised Coach Tice and Coach Cottrell I would visit. I told my wife before this even started that I would make two visits.”
Winfield ended up playing for the Vikings for nine seasons and 119 games while making the Pro Bowl three times.
*In 2018, just last season, the Jets were charging hard for the quarterback considered the prize of the free agent market: Kirk Cousins.
New York, in fact, offered Cousins a bigger contract than the Vikings — three years for $90 million fully guaranteed ($30 million a year), which Cousins confirmed in a video last August. If the Jets thought they had the inside track with their offer, it seems that the reality was more that Cousins was leveraging the Jets to get the Vikings to increase their offer — which at the time was $25 million a year for three years, guaranteed. Cousins said of his agent and the Jets offer:
“He’s got to get them from 25 to a number that is competitive with the Jets’ offer. But the fact that we have the Jets offer is huge. Now it gives the other teams a reason to come up.”
The Vikings offered $28 million a year for three years guaranteed, and Cousins took it.
*That Cousins deal has implications on this year’s Vikings salary cap to the point that it looked as though Minnesota was in real danger of not being able to sign either Sheldon Richardson or Anthony Barr. Richardson reportedly agreed to a deal with the Browns on Monday, and reports emerged late that night that Barr was going to leave the Vikings to sign with the Jets.
But much like Winfield 15 years ago, Barr had second thoughts and a late night conversation got the Vikings back in the picture. And just like Cousins last season, Barr ended up taking less money to sign with the Vikings.
All of this led to a series of amusing tweets on Tuesday when it was announced Le’Veon Bell was going to sign with the Jets. I doubt he’s going to change his mind later today and join the Vikings when contracts can become official, but you never know.