Sunday slant: Recalling the Winfield steal

The Vikings made a last-ditch run at Antoine Winfield in 2004 and literally stole him away from the Jets while they were preparing the paperwork for Winfield to sign with them. Ah, the cloak-and-dagger days of NFL free agency. Plus, see how Randy Moss is changing the Vikings' odds in Vegas and how competitive the league is after four weeks.

The Vikings roster is made up players from the draft, free agency and trades. The old free-agent class still represented on the current roster is 2004.

Long snapper Cullen Loeffler and guard Anthony Herrera joined the team as rookie free agents that year, but Antoine Winfield was an unrestricted veteran free agent that has one of the more interesting free-agent stories to spin.

The way that Winfield made his way to Minnesota has a bit of suspense and some covert, back-door dealings befitting the glitz and glamour of New York. With the Vikings set to play the New York Jets on Monday night, it brought Winfield's story to mind.

In 2004, the cornerback had already spent five years carving out an impressive and underappreciated career in Buffalo, where losing had become commonplace and star power was lacking. When he was up for free agency, he had revenge on his mind.

"I was just mad. Players take it personal when they feel they're undervalued," Winfield said this week. "I had a great career there. Played five good years. Loved the organization. Loved the city. But when you come into the league, you want to be with that team your whole career. When they offered such a low contract, it felt kind of disrespectful. So I was like, hmmm, I want to get back at Buffalo. Let me go sign with the Jets."

The Jets were and still are in Buffalo's division and, much like Brett Favre leaving the Packers and eventually making his way to Minnesota (with a stop at the Jets in between), Winfield felt like going to a division rival would sting the organization that he felt wronged him.

So Winfield had every intention of signing with the Jets. He had even verbally agreed to a contract with them. Until the Vikings – the Red McCombs-owned Vikings, no less, at that time! – significantly upped the ante and pulled the Winfield rug out from under the Jets.

Winfield spent a couple hours on the opening day of 2004 free agency touring the Jets facility and meeting coaches and players. After verbally agreeing to terms of a contract, Winfield went back to the hotel with his wife, expecting to relax for a few hours while the Jets drew up the contract.

Not so fast. Then-Vikings coach Mike Tice had Winfield as a target and wasn't about to give up. Winfield was viewed as a chance for Minnesota to get a talented cornerback with even more upside, something the team had lacked in those years.

"My wife and I went back to the hotel, laid down for a minute. Then I heard on SportsCenter: Antoine Winfield signs with the Jets. They announced it and I'm like, ‘No! That's not true.' My agent was on the phone and had called Minnesota," Winfield recalled. "I would say it all happened within two hours of us leaving each other. After we left the Jets for that meeting, went to the room, laid down, heard that I signed with the Jets. My agent called me like, ‘Hey, I got Minnesota on the line. They got the money. Some way we need to get out of here.'"

As the story goes – and Winfield couldn't confirm this part – Tice had a well-heeled connection on the East Coast who had a plane as one of his toys. All Winfield had to do was accept an offer for more money – $5 million more – and that plane would be waiting for him at a New York-area airport.

"(My agent) said, ‘Minnesota offered another five million.' I was like, ‘Oh, we out! We out! We've got to get on a plane. We've got to get out of here.' We figured out a way to get out of it," Winfield said with a smile.

There was another bonus, too. The Vikings had just hired Ted Cottrell as their defensive coordinator. He had just coached Winfield in Buffalo, so there was a familiarity that made for a natural fit.

There was also the added bonus of a potent offense already in place, another thing that Buffalo circa 2004 lacked.

"Once I found out Coach Cotrell was here, I was like, ‘Oh, I'd be perfect in that defense.' Minnesota had Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss – they had a great offense so I was like, ‘They get a little defense up there, we'll be alright,'" Winfield said.

As long-suffering Vikings fans know, Winfield's first years in Minnesota weren't as dreamy as he might have envisioned while laying down in his New York hotel room. In 2004, the Vikings went 8-8. The next year proved to be Tice's (and Cottrell's) last in Minnesota, as the coaching staff was let go by new owner Zygi Wilf following a 9-7 and trouble-filled 2005. It wasn't until 2008 that Winfield experienced another winning season.

Meanwhile, the Jets seemed to have the Vikings in mind for revenge in the coming drafts.

A year after the Winfield signing, the Jets started a pattern of seemingly usurping picks from the Vikings. In 2005, the Vikings had the 49th pick and were poised to selected kicker Mike Nugent … until the Jets snagged him two picks earlier.

In 2006, the Vikings were rumored to have interest in QB Kellen Clemens. In the second round, the Jets traded two spots ahead of the Vikings and selected Clemens 49th overall. The Vikings took Ryan Cook with the 51st pick and then traded to get back up to the 64th pick and select QB Tarvaris Jackson.

In the end, it's still worth it. The Vikings got a Pro Bowl cornerback that had been sorely lacking after years of trying to patch it together with low-level rookies or over-the-hill veterans.

The cloak-and-dagger routine worked for the Vikings, and Winfield will be a staple of the Vikings defense more than six years later when they face the Jets on Monday Night Football.

"They've moved on. I've moved on," Winfield said.


Randy Moss is back with the Vikings, ready to change defensive approaches, and the line in Vegas. Betting site is proof of that.

Last week, the Vikings were 25-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl. Now that they have Moss, their odds have improved to 16-1.

"Randy Moss gives Minnesota the one element it has sorely lacked and that is a top-end wideout threat," Bodog Sportsbook manager Richard Gardner said. "If Moss and (Brett) Favre can develop any chemistry at all, this reasserts the Vikings as Super Bowl contenders even after their sluggish start. Moss hadn't really much of a role in New England's offense this season, so we couldn't justify pushing their odds out. Removing him from the mix may actually be a case of addition by subtraction for the Patriots (who improved to 11-1 from 14-1)."

As for winning the NFC North, the Packers are still favored at 1-2 while the Vikings and Bears are 7-2. The Lions are 100-1 entering Sunday.

The site has the over-under set at 750 yards on 45.5 receptions for Moss as a Viking this year. Against the Jets, they have Moss' line set at four receptions for 62.5 yards.


  • Favre needs one touchdown pass to become the first in NFL history with 500. Crazy that it might be Randy Moss that catches it.

  • How's this for NFL parity? Twenty-three teams are either in first place or within a game of it within their division. After four weeks, that is highest number in NFL history The Vikings, at 1-2, are not among them.

  • There is hope. Since the current playoff system with 12 teams was instituted in 1990, 22 teams have rebounded from a losing record after four weeks to qualify for the postseason. Four of those clubs advanced to their conference championship games, including the 2001 New England Patriots (1-3) en route to their Super Bowl XXXVI victory.

    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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