Winfield Tops CBs In Free Agency

In their seemingly never-ending search for a reliable cornerback in free agency, the Vikings are thought to be looking at a few select names, and one of them is at the top of the market.

Ever since losing Corey Fuller and Dewayne Washington to free agency, the Vikings have been searching for a reliable pair of cornerbacks they can plug in during consecutive seasons and trust they won't get burned too often.

It seems they found one reliable up-and-coming corner in 2002 fourth-round draft pick Brian Williams. But while Williams gained the confidence of coaches and players alike throughout 2003, on the other side of the field Ken Irvin struggled with injuries and Denard Walker simply disappointed.

So the Vikings are left to pick from a solid crop of free agents set to hit the market on March 3. Troy Vincent has been one of the desired ones among those at Winter Park, but Viking Update has been told defensive coordinator Ted Cotrell is definitely interested in the team making a strong push for the Buffalo Bills' Antoine Winfield, who played under Cotrell when he was the defensive coordinator in Buffalo.

While Vincent has more experience, Winfield, who at 26 is six years younger, probably has more potential for a long-term contract and would fit into head coach Mike Tice's philosophy of getting players on the rise.

Winfield was in talks with the Bills earlier this month about working out a new deal before March 3, but it appears he would rather explore his options on the open market. The Bills elected not to use their franchise or transition tag on him.

While Winfield is a bit smaller at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, he has been called "pound-for-pound among the best tacklers in the NFL and can cover" by one beat writer in Buffalo. Also to the Vikings' advantage is that Winfield doesn't have the interception numbers of some of the other top corners on the market, which would mean his price may not be driven up as much while still displaying solid cover skills. He has only six career interceptions, but he obviously has Cotrell's endorsement.

He finished fourth on the Bills in tackles and first in tackles-for-losses in 2003.

* The Vikings and representatives for tight end Jim Kleinsasser talked before the end of the season and again last week about working out a deal, but it doesn't look like the two sides will agree to terms before Kleinsasser hits the open market on March 3. He is said to be seeking a deal offering about $3 million a year, and the Vikings don't appear interested spending that much on him.
* There aren't a ton of a great free-agent tight ends available, which could increase Kleinsasser's value around the league. It might also mean the Vikings wouldn't put as much emphasis on the two-tight end sets as they did in 2003.

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