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Wednesday's Notebook: The Troubling Absence of Antoine Winfield

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Winfield a No-Show at OTAs

For a brief period last Friday, Antoine Winfield's absence at minicamp was met with a flurry of speculation that he was protesting the lack of any progress between the team and his agent on a new contract.  Chilly soon cleared things up at a news conference by stating that Winfield was attending the funeral of a friend's mother, but that sudden surge of speculation underscores the uneasy nature of Winny's relationship with the team at the moment.

But while last weekend's Winfield rumors were a false alarm, it's hard to mistake the meaning of his absence from the OTAs that began on Tuesday.  Granted, these aren't required practices, but when Chilly says that all players are invited, he means that you'd better get your butt over to Winter Park for this week's four practices.

While many veterans are expected to attend this week's OTAs, Winfield had other ideas.  You think he would have skipped these optional practices if talks between his agent and the team were still ongoing, or if he had already been awarded a new contract?  After participating in the Vikings' offseason conditioning program while both sides were still at the bargaining table, it's distressing that Winfield has vanished from Winter Park since talks broke down.

Like the Favre drama and the courtroom battles still being fought by Pat and Kevin Williams, it's easy to see the distraction potential in the Winfield contract standoff.  Not just for the team as a whole, but for Winfield himself.  This can't become a source of bitterness for him, because if it does, we could see that spill over to the football field.

Contract battles such as these are business matters, to a great extent.  I get that.  I don't blame Winfield for wanting a new contract after the season he had in 2008, and look, it's also difficult to blame the Vikings for haggling over the contract they want to give a cornerback who will turn 32 later this month.  Perhaps there isn't really anyone to blame for the contract talks coming to a stop, but it's clear that progress needs to be made, and it needs to be made soon.

The Persistence of Kenechi Udeze

Great story from Kevin Seifert on Kenechi Udeze, who has received lots of well-deserved media attention after making his return to the field during these past weeks.  Well-worth a read, but here are some quick highlights:

His leukemia was in remission. Doctors had given him permission, albeit grudgingly, to embark on an NFL comeback. So Kenechi Udeze lined up to run this winter with a group of athletes near his home in Los Angeles.

He wasn't prepared for what happened next.

"I took two steps," Udeze said. "And I fell."

Whoa...just, whoa.  Remember, we're not far removed from the scene Seifert and Kenechi described -- it happened this winter.  The fact that he's participating in minicamp and the OTAs, my friends, is an absolute triumph.

Still, even if Udeze's story has become a favorite topic of mine, the Vikings are ultimately a team interested in assembling the best group of guys they can for the 53-man roster.  I'm admittedly uncomfortable about dealing with his chances of making the team, but it's something that should nevertheless be mentioned:

Once you get past Udeze's medical improvement, however, you realize he faces a challenge to make the Vikings' regular-season roster. You figure at least three defensive ends are locks to earn roster spots ahead of him -- Jared Allen, Ray Edwards and Brian Robison -- and there is no telling how the team will have to configure its depth chart to compensate for the possible suspensions of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams.

As inspiring as Udeze's story has been, the concern about his ability to be in "football shape" for the season is legitimate.  He's physically healthy, but that's not the same thing as being ready to suit up for week one.  Again, though, this just isn't something I'm interested in dwelling on, as the far more important point is that he conquered leukemia.  One thing's for sure: We're all rooting for him, even if his chances of making the roster are unclear.

And Finally...

Rodney Harrison will announce his retirement and join the cast of NBC's Sunday Night Football, becoming the network's 10,000th NFL analyist...You hear about that Warroad pitcher who threw 13 innings and 201 pitches, and then hit a walkoff homer?...I didn't even think it was physically possible to throw over 200 pitches in a single outing, much less hit a homer after doing so...A day after throwing in the towel on trying to convert Roderick Rogers from safety to receiver, the roster is back up to 85 players after the Vikings signed former North Alabama WR Bobby Williams...Vince Young wants out of Tennessee if he can't be the Titans' starting quarterback...