The Vikings thought they might have found their shutdown cornerback last year in free agency when they signed Denard Walker. Turned out, Walker struggled with injuries and eventually lost his starting job to Ken Irvin, another free-agent cornerback obtained last off-season.
Now the Vikings find themselves listing cornerback as one of their top priorities again in free agency, and this year they have more cap room, an estimated $30 million after the re-signing of tight end Jim Kleinsasser, to do it.
Two names that have been mentioned repeatedly fit the mold — Troy Vincent and Antoine Winfield. Winfield is considered a little better talent and, because he is younger and has worked with new defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell in Buffalo, may be the more desirable of the two.
"(Winfield) is part of the Buffalo connection that we have, along with Kenny (Irvin)," Cottrell said. "He's one of those guys that we're interested in and hopefully we'll get him in for a visit. He's a good player, always has been. He's self-motivated and probably one of the best tacklers in the league. He has already drawn a lot of attention. We're keeping our fingers crossed that he's keeping us in mind."
Winfield's travel schedule hasn't been set yet, but he is expected to make his decisions on which teams to visit today.
While Winfield is ranked as the top unrestricted free agent on the cornerback market, he has one statistic that may concern fans. He's 5-foot-9 in a league that puts a premium on tall receivers.
Does that worry Cottrell, who knew Winfield from three years of working together in Buffalo?
"Hell no. It was never (a concern) when we drafted him No. 1," Cottrell said. "I guess Antoine has had that all of his life, that he's too little. He's a hell of a player, he's a hell of a player."
The Bills drafted him in 1999, and he literally made an immediate impact. He played in 16 games, starting only two but proving his tackling prowess with 63 in his first year in the league. Since his rookie campaign he has started 42 consecutive games in which he played (he missed five games in 2000 and three in 2002).
He has been a tackling machine every since, credited with 355 tackles over his five-year career, according to NFL statistics.
But Cottrell also believes in Winfield's cover ability, despite only six interceptions in five years, or Winfield wouldn't be on the Vikings' radar.
"I think he's one of those top cover guys," Cottrell said. "He has great awareness. He's hard to fool. You may fool him once, but you won't fool him twice."
Cottrell laughs when talking about Winfield as a person and a responsible player.
"He's one of those guys that's calm and quiet, but he'll shoot darts at you. He'll zing you, he'll zing you quietly," the defensive coordinator said. "He's a great guy. He and Kenny Irvin are in the same mold. You don't have to tell them about practicing hard or studying extra tapes and stuff. Those guys do that."
So what doesn't Winfield have?
"I'll tell you one thing he doesn't have is that Viking logo," Cottrell said with a big laugh. "He's got to get that Viking logo. That's that only thing he doesn't have yet. We can do that."
"I think Antoine, his priority is up there pretty high."
Cottrell Loves Winfield
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