We discussed cornerback Antoine Winfield's likely contract agreement earlier this week, and I don't have too much to add now that he has told ESPN's Josina Anderson that the deal is complete. A few final thoughts:
No surprise: Frankly, I would have been surprised if Winfield had returned to the Minnesota Vikings. Players who are released for financial reasons, as Winfield was last month, usually take another option if it presents itself. Pride plays a role, as does the energy of a fresh start. The Vikings wanted Winfield to take a reduced role at a reduced salary. That's a sobering request. Winfield might have felt more comfortable doing so when the starters ahead of him were the best cornerback duo in the league, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, rather than whoever wins the starting jobs for the Vikings. (Chris Cook and Josh Robinson are the early favorites.)
Timing: Winfield is approaching his 36th birthday, but some of you are asking via Twitter why the Vikings were so intent on reducing his role after he played 16 games as a full-time player last season. The truth is that they wanted to do it in 2012 before injuries, and Winfield's maintained health, forced them to drop that plan. Most long-term thinkers would tell you it's better to be a little early on a player's descent than too late.
Money matters: The Vikings couldn't proceed into free agency with Winfield's $7.25 million cap number. (Indeed, they are less than $4 million under the cap now.) But reports at the time of his release suggested there were no substantive discussions about a pay cut, an indication the team had decided to move on. So why, then, the aggressive post-release pursuit? If the Vikings wanted Winfield back, as coach Leslie Frazier has said repeatedly, why wouldn't they try harder when they had exclusivity with him? It's puzzling and suggests there are some holes in this narrative that have not been answered.
Legacy: Winfield should go down as arguably the best free-agent signing in Vikings history. Few remember that he nearly signed with the New York Jets in 2004 before then-coach Mike Tice sent the private plane of a friend to whisk him away from negotiations. Winfield was a fearless tackler, a hard worker in coverage and a veteran who managed to lead players in the locker room while also challenging authority when necessary. He will be difficult to replace.
Minnesota West: For those asking, Winfield gives the Seattle Seahawks four former Vikings players on their roster. The others include special teams ace Heath Farwell, receiver Sidney Rice and receiver Percy Harvin. Former Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is in the same role with the Seahawks as well.
Moving forward: Cook and Robinson would seem to sit atop the offseason depth chart at the moment. Cornerback A.J. Jefferson signed his restricted free agent tender Friday, and it's safe to assume the Vikings will look for additional depth via the draft.