Antoine Winfield said he "absolutely" can feel his clock ticking and seemed to agree that a reduced role would give him the best chance of lasting 16 games in 2012.
Winfield has missed six games or more in two of the last three seasons, suffering neck and collarbone injuries last year that limited him to five games before going on season-ending injured reserve, and a foot injury in 2009 cost him six games.
Winfield will turn 35 in June and admitted that he can feel his NFL clock ticking.
"Absolutely. A lot of cornerbacks don't last in this league 14 years," Winfield said. "Like I said, I've been blessed. I still love the game, still love to go out there and compete and I still believe I can contribute to this team, so I'm looking forward to it."
But just how much he contributes will be the $3 million issue. Last year, mainly because of injuries, Winfield played in only 323 of the defense's 1,065 snaps. But in 2010, when available for all 16 games, he played in 98 percent of the team's defensive snaps, showing just how much the team relies on him when he is available.
That could change in the near future, maybe as soon as this season, as the team considers moving him into a role in which he wouldn't be a full-time cornerback, rather a nickel defender. Even Winfield admitted that might "possibly" extend his career.
"We have about two more months before we start training camp. I'll communicate with the coaches and let them know how I feel," he said. "I don't know if I'll be out there playing 60, 70 snaps for 16 games. I don't think that will work at 35 years old."
Injuries to other cornerbacks have been a contributing factor to Winfield's use/overuse when he's been available. In 2010, when he played 981 of the 1,000 defensive snaps, Cedric Griffin was returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and Chris Cook, a rookie at the time, was dealing with meniscus injuries in both of his knees. Griffin played in only two games before landing on injured reserve in October 2010. Cook played in only six games before he eventually succumbed to injured reserve.
Last year, it was more of the same, only Winfield was among the top cornerbacks unavailable for much of the season. In addition to his neck and collarbone injuries, Griffin never regained his previous form after his second torn ACL and Cook was arrested for domestic assault and spent the final 10 weeks of the season away from the team.
That caused the Vikings to overhaul their cornerback corps this offseason. They released Cedric Griffin and signed Zack Bowman and Chris Carr in free agency. They added Josh Robinson in the third round of the draft, but found out last week that Asher Allen, a fill-in mainstay during the rash of injuries at cornerback over the last three seasons, is retiring.
"The turnover has been unbelievable, but when you go 3-13, that happens. This is a business. But change could be good. We have a lot of young guys that are hungry to get out here and compete. I'm looking forward to them getting to work," Winfield said.
"… I'm excited about it. We have some very talented guys. Just being out here the last two days, just making plays on the ball, very athletic, very fast. I remember 14 years ago, I was running like that, but it's all fun."
Regarding his current health, Winfield says he is "all healed up" and back to 100 percent. His approach to his future is pretty simple:
"I take it year by year," he said.
"In this league, it's hard to make teams and then last this long, especially playing the position I play in. I've been blessed. All I can do is work hard and try to hold my position down."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Winfield doesn't discount reduced role
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