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Saturday, August 31, 2013
Vikings: Contemplating a Winfield return

By Ben Goessling

In March, the Vikings decided to cut Antoine Winfield rather than paying him $7.25 million for 2013. In April, they missed out on a chance to re-sign Winfield when he accepted a one-year, $2 million deal from the Seattle Seahawks. Now, if the Seahawks cut Winfield this afternoon -- as CBSSports.com reports they could do -- the Vikings might have a chance to bring Winfield back for a minimum-salary deal.

Winfield
General manager Rick Spielman appeared to have rightly estimated the declining market for the 15th-year cornerback, and if the Vikings wanted to bring Winfield back after he hit the open market, they could have scored quite the coup: a well-respected veteran coming off one of his best seasons who already knows their system and could step right back into his old job as the team's slot cornerback, where the Vikings could have concerns about replacing him.

But Winfield's situation is also indicative of how quickly things change in the NFL, and nearly six months after they cut Winfield, the Vikings' cornerback situation looks quite a bit different. They drafted Xavier Rhodes, and plan to play him outside in nickel situations while moving second-year man Josh Robinson inside. Sooner or later, the Vikings will have to see how someone other than Winfield can handle the job. Would bringing Winfield back this year delay that process, and if so, would he offer enough benefit to the Vikings that they'd move Robinson out of the role after spending the entire offseason developing him?

Robinson struggled last Sunday night in San Francisco, as 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick targeted him in the slot, but defensive coordinator Alan Williams has said Robinson is much more comfortable with the job than he expected he would be at this point. It's possible Winfield could come back to push Robinson, or give the Vikings another option if Robinson can't do the job, but it wouldn't be like the Vikings to spend a full offseason developing a player, only to go back to an older option, unless they had serious concerns about the younger player's readiness for the role.

Coach Leslie Frazier campaigned hard to get Winfield to return to the Vikings this spring, and he wasn't the only one in contact with the cornerback as he made his decision. Will the Vikings feel as strongly about Winfield coming back if they have another shot at him? That remains to be seen, but in a league bending toward younger players, a Winfield-to-Minnesota move might not be as much of a fait accompli as it would seem on the surface.