Wow....it's still sinking in.
I'll say it again: wow.
Antoine Winfield has been the anchor of the Vikings' secondary for the past nine seasons. He is one of the best tackling cornerbacks in the league. Check that--he's one of the best tackling cornerbacks in the history of the league. Winfield has been the one consistent force in an otherwise tumultuous stretch of players and quality for Minnesota's defensive backfield. He had 606 tackles, 21 interceptions, eleven forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries, five return touchdowns (two fumble returns, two pick sixes, and one blocked field goal return), three Pro Bowls, innumerable big plays, and a partridge in a pear tree over the past nine seasons.
And now he's gone.
Getting rid of Percy Harvin was one thing. We saw the writing on the wall with our talented malcontent wide receiver. It wasn't if he would leave the Vikings, it was when. Moving Harvin now while the team could get some solid compensation was understandable.
But Winfield? I'm sorry, but it just doesn't make sense. He is basically everything you'd ever want in a football player. He's smart. He's a leader. He leads by example. And by all accounts, he was even better off the field.
The main motivating factor of the move had to be money. Winfield was due $7.5 million this season, which is a lot to pay for a guy that wasn't going to be on the field every defensive down. The Vikings reportedly wanted to restructure his deal and Winfield wasn't willing to take a pay cut. While the money didn't match what you'd pay a nickel corner (which is what Winfield essentially is at this point of his career), Antoine was the absolute heart and soul of that defense. There was absolutely nobody in the league that could do what he did for the Vikings defense. The Vikings had him on a pitch count last year and it worked incredibly well--Winfield played in all 16 games and had a great season overall. His numbers approached some of his best years when he was an every-down corner.
I know that GM Rick Spielman has built a lot of trust with the fan base with last year's draft and success, but this is pushing things a little far. They just jettisoned their most dynamic player yesterday and now they're dumping one of their defensive leaders the next? The only acceptable explanation at this point is that the team has a HUGE acquisition in the works. Are they targeting a big-name wide receiver? Are they jumping into the Darrelle Revis pool with both feet?
Whatever the answer is, it better be good. Because a move like this is not going to be popular among Vikings die-hards.