INDIANAPOLIS -- There is little doubt that the Minnesota Vikings will overhaul their secondary after finishing 2011 with one of the worst pass defenses in NFL history. One aspect that we haven't discussed: How will that process impact veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield?
I posed that question Thursday to Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, specifically asking if he envisioned Winfield -- who turns 35 in June -- moving to safety. Winfield has always been a sure tackler and excellent run-supporter, making a safety transition seem logical at least on paper.
Spielman's answer was revealing and suggested the Vikings are at least planning for a time in the near future when Winfield isn't one of their starting cornerbacks.
"We've talked about [moving him to safety] a little bit," Spielman said during a break in the NFL combine. "But we still feel that he has the quickness and effective style of play to be an effective [nickel] as well. Antoine has been a very smart player, been a great player for us since he's come in, but also you have the age concerns a little bit and the durability concerns which is normal for a player of his age."
Where will Winfield play in 2012? All options seem to be on the table, especially at this time of year when the Vikings have neither signed a free agent nor drafted a single player. Shifting Winfield's position would be a lot easier if the Vikings acquire a few starting-quality cornerbacks this offseason. Winfield could be their nickelback, working primarily in the slot in three- or four-receiver sets. He could be a pure safety, or he could be a hybrid safety that slides into the nickel on passing downs.
Asked about those possibilities, Spielman said: "I think that's something more that the coaches have to determine. They have to figure out how to utilize everybody's skill set to get the best ability out of them."
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is scheduled to speak with reporters Friday. Winfield has been one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL during his 13-year career, but it's only fair to note his age and the fact that two of his past three seasons have been shortened by injuries. This time comes for every player. For Winfield, it's just a matter of whether it happens in 2012 or later.
"I just think as guys get older his role changes," Spielman said. "And Antoine is still an excellent football player. What that role is yet to be determined. That's what the coaches do."