In a contract year, Captain Munnerlyn played through the pain.
The Minnesota Vikings cornerback revealed that he played for much of the last two months with a high ankle sprain, coming back well before doctors said he would be ready.
“Last year, injuries kind of slowed me down a little bit. Having a high ankle sprain and fighting through it for the last six, seven games was tough,” Munnerlyn told Viking Update. “I don’t think people realize how tough that is. I wasn’t supposed to play. I had doctors telling me, ‘No, you’re supposed to be out four to six weeks, six to eight weeks.’ That’s what the indication was and I came back a week later.”
Munnerlyn played only snaps of a Week 9 game against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 6 before leaving with the injury. He missed the following week against the Washington Redskins, but on Nov. 20 he returned to play 63 of the 74 defensive snaps despite the injury.
The 5-foot-9 cornerback has often had the sense that he has to prove himself more than most for a variety of reasons, ranging from his lack of height to low (seventh-round) draft status to being thought of as a nickel cornerback. For the last year, he has embraced the role of the nickel cornerback and called himself the best nickel back in the NFL.
He’s hoping his willingness and ability to play so soon after suffering the injury shows a measure of toughness for which he might not always be credited.
“I don’t think people realize how tough a guy I am with the same situation with Harrison [Smith],” Munnerlyn said, referring to the Vikings safety that battled his own severe ankle sprain late in the season, missing two games before returning for the final two. “He wasn’t supposed to play, but we were trying to put our football team in the best position to win football games and I felt like me being there was the best thing for the football team.”
Despite missing all but six snaps over that midseason two-game stretch, Munnerlyn still played in more than 60 percent of the defensive snaps in 2016.
The analytics site Pro Football Focus gave him an average grade of 75.5, 49th among cornerbacks, but Munnerlyn is generally credited with having a solid season, despite the injury.
“Statistically, I didn’t have the year that I wanted. I didn’t record an interception. I haven’t done that in a long time. I still held my own; I still played well,” he said. “You didn’t hear my name called a lot and that’s a good thing at defensive back. At the same time, I held my own, I made plays. I want to say I accounted for just one touchdown in 15 games. That’s pretty good.”
And now Munnerlyn finds himself about two weeks away from free agency and hoping to re-sign with the Vikings but willing to test the free-agent market if Minnesota doesn’t offer a deal he feels is fair.
“I know it’s a business,” he said. “I’m a guy that’s a firm believer that I’ve put in work.”