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The Little Engine that Could Wants to Keep Going


The offseason has been an interesting ride for Vikings fans. I don’t need to remind everyone that the Favre circus rolls through the Minneapolis streets more often than lost teenagers from the suburbs, and that the free agency period has been a test of expectations for fans (Thanks Houshmanzadeh!). Ever since the NFL turned their fiscal clock towards 2009 though, there has been the behind the scenes story of Antoine Winfield signing a new contract with the Vikings as he enters the final year of his original agreement.

What’s been most surprising is the fact that a contract agreement has been so tough to reach and that finding any common ground has been so difficult. Quite frankly, with such a desire from both parties to get this thing done, and with the current lack of consistent cornerback play behind Winfield, it seems rather apparent that the Vikings should do everything in their power to make sure that Winfield signs another contract with the team, regardless of concerns about his age.

There can’t be enough said about Winfield and his contributions to the team. When he signed with the Vikings in 2004, the defense was a disaster (ranked 28th in yards) but Winfield made an impact by leading the team in solo tackles during his first year and helping the team memorably beat Green Bay in Wisconsin, faux-mooning the entire state in the process. Ever since then, he has solidified the cornerback spot and almost has been so fantastically to a fault, forcing quarterbacks to not even look his direction on the field because he’s such a strong defender. When they fail to do so, however, they end up blindsided like Jake Delhomme, forever embedded in Winfield’s own highlight reels.

It’s interesting that the Vikings were able to reach an agreement with Cedric Griffin this offseason so quickly, yet have struggled with signing Winfield. Winfield is clearly the better player and more deserving of the contract. Naturally, it’s understandable that there would be a hesitancy on the Vikings organization to sign an aging player long term, but after making his first Pro Bowl last year and providing his most memorable year as a defensive player, it’s hard to argue that his skills are declining and thus not worthy of a contract.

More than likely, the two parties have been circling around the dollar signs and perhaps the length of the contract. Although these details have been kept under wraps tighter than the details on a new iPhone release, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the Vikings offering a three year contract worth around $28-30 million, with the Winfield camp looking for a longer term contract (five years even?) in the neighborhood of $45-50 million.

Those numbers are rather far off, but ever since the Raiders signed Nnamdi Asomugha to an absolutely outrageous contract for a cornerback, it has unfortunately set a standard for all other cornerbacks in the market. Based on this precedent, the Vikings need to take a step back and ask themselves if some contractual middle ground can be reached that would accurately reflect their need for consistent cornerback play.

How hard is it for poison pill guru Rob Brzezinski to write up a front loaded contract worth four years that has stipulations in it about total tackles in Winfield’s later years, or that Winfield would have to flash his award winning smile more often when closer to retirement? The numbers are off right now, yes, but I think most Viking fans would agree that it would be heartbreaking to see Winfield walk away like two other notable veterans did this past offseason, namely Matt Birk and Darren Sharper.

When it comes right down to it, everyone (fans and organization members included) is aware that the Vikings gap to win a Super Bowl is closing soon with the aging high caliber roster they have. Based on his most recent year, Winfield is obviously still productive enough to deserve a contract and would be a huge asset to the Vikings defense for at least three more years.

The fear of him not manning a cornerback spot next year already puts cornerback as a top need in free agency or the draft in 2010. In addition, his absence would easily cause a decline in defensive coverage. So after the guy has clearly stated that he wants to retire as a Viking, is still productive, and is a quality veteran leader, the Vikings need to understand that overspending a bit on a high caliber player won’t always set your organization back. Realize this, and get him to put ink to paper.

Or else we may have to put up with him in Detroit or something for a couple years. And that would be … interesting.

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