Antoine Winfield was scheduled to visit Washington on Wednesday. The 14-year veteran cornerback wasn’t interested in the monuments and museums of the nation’s capital. He was wanted to see what Washington — the Redskins, that is — could do for him a short drive away at the team’s headquarters in Virginia.
Two-plus weeks after Winfield was unceremoniously cut by the Minnesota Vikings on March 12, he was making his first free-agent visit to another team. Winfield’s release was a surprise, a salary-cap maneuver by Minnesota. It didn’t take long before the three-time Pro Bowl selection was reportedly receiving calls from other teams after the news broke of his release.
Yet Winfield waited to visit other teams. The cornerback, who will turn 36 in June, was weighing his options. But what exactly are his options at this point?
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The trip to Washington is a curious one. The Redskins certainly need the secondary help and were a playoff team last year, just like the Vikings. Yet Washington has, reportedly, just over $3 million in available cap space. For what it’s worth, Minnesota has more than $5 million in cap space.
A source told me that a “handful” of teams have inquired about Winfield and that the Vikings are still very much in the mix. Winfield doesn’t have any other trips planned — yet. The source did say that Winfield “100 percent” wants to continue his career.
Minnesota made a very difficult decision with Winfield. On the first day of free agency, the Vikings were working to re-sign Phil Loadholt. Winfield, who was working out at the team facilities that day, was called up to general manager Rick Spielman’s office and told he was being released. That saved Minnesota the $7.25 million Winfield was owed in the final year of his contract, possibly what would have been his last year in the NFL before retiring.
Strangely, not long after cutting Winfield, Spielman told reporters that he hoped to re-sign the cornerback, one of the defensive leaders on last year’s surprise playoff team. Spielman was keeping a return “open.”
The business decision made sense at the time. Winfield, though still a quality player, was going to have his snaps reduced. The money saved went on to help the Vikings re-sign Loadholt, fullback Jerome Felton, safety Jamarca Sanford, linebacker Erin Henderson and, later in the week, quarterback Matt Cassel and wide receiver Greg Jennings. Minnesota wouldn’t have been able to make all those moves without cutting Winfield.
To understand how important Winfield was to last year’s team, though, you only have to look at the response from several Vikings after the release. It was about more than just Winfield’s three interceptions, which tied for the team lead, and 110 tackles last season. Sanford said Winfield’s release, “really tore me apart.” Coach Leslie Frazier has reportedly been in contact with Winfield, trying to smooth any possible tension after the move and get one of his team leaders to consider coming back. Linebacker Chad Greenway also reportedly was going to reach out to Winfield.
There’s no doubting Winfield’s value, but Minnesota couldn’t afford to pay him $7.25 million. Would Winfield consider returning for less money, even after being slighted the way he was when released? Finding his team for next season has taken some time, but maybe time is healing any wounds.
A source told me that Winfield has moved on from the pain of being released. He’s focused on deciding which team offers the best opportunity to continue his career.
He waited two weeks before making his first trip to meet with another team. Now he wants to hear what the Redskins have to say. He surely has heard the Vikings’ pitch. The Vikings could maybe offer him more money than the Redskins, though substantially less than what he had been making. What can other teams offer him?
Winfield has never won a Super Bowl and likely doesn’t have many years left. Could he choose based on the best opportunity to win a trophy? Washington and Minnesota were playoff teams but won’t enter 2013 — even with Winfield — as teams with realistic Super Bowl aspirations. Who are those “handful” of other teams?
In the end, can Winfield return to a team that dumped him unfavorably just over two weeks ago?
Only Winfield knows the answer, and he’s likely getting close to revealing his choice after visiting with the Redskins.