At the end of a spectacularly disappointing 2010 season - a season I care to forget but can't - Pacifist Viking wrote this about Antoine Winfield:
"The Vikings should keep Antoine Winfield on the roster until it's clear
he can't do anything anymore--he's too savvy a player not to be useful."
Those words are just as true today as they were two years ago, only now Winfield is no longer a Minnesota Viking and is looking elsewhere for employment after the Vikes released him just before free agency started.
I understand the rationale behind Winfield's release, even if it's hard to swallow. They couldn't pay a guy $7.5 million that they felt would be a part-time player in 2013 when they had other needs to address and only so much money to address them - like resigning right tackle Phil Loadholt and whisking Greg Jennings away from Green Bay.
However, losing Winfield - if the Vikings do end up losing him - worries me on a few of levels.
1. Winfield's football IQ and the respect he commands in the Vikings locker room were a big help to a young Vikings secondary in 2012. Remember how lost the unit looked when Winfield broke his hand late in the first half in the season finale against Green Bay and sat out the rest of the game? And remember how the team responded against San Francisco after Winfield gave his teammates at talking to after a poor performance the week earlier against the Colts? Sports teams need leaders they can believe in and follow. Winfield is a guy young players will follow and who they can learn from. The Vikings will lose that with Winfield gone.
2. Last year the Vikings coaching staff talked about reducing Winfield's snaps to keep him fresh and healthy for a full 16 game season (he had missed at least six games in three of the previous five seasons.) We heard the team was going to lean more on Chris Cook and rookie Josh Robinson, with Robinson maybe taking over as a starter for Winfield later in the season if the rookie progressed enough. But then the season started and Winfield quickly showed he was still the Vikings best cornerback - by far. The Vikings couldn't afford not to have him on the field - especially when Cook broke his arm and missed a bunch of games and Robinson struggled so much he was benched. The Vikings apparently Winfield because they couldn't afford to pay a part-time player such a high salary. But how can they be sure Winfield would be a part-time player in 2013? Based on my eyeballs, I find it hard to believe Cook, Robinson or A.J. Jefferson would play well enough to take significant playing time away from Winfield next season. The same goes for whomever the Vikings sign or draft in the next 30 days. There is going to be a time when Winfield is no longer a very good, very valuable football player. But now is not that time. I sure hope the Vikings find a way to get him back for 2013.