Winfield, who was selected to his first Pro Bowl last season, is entering his 11th NFL season and will turn 32 in two weeks (June 24 to be exact). At the time he signed his deal in 2004, the thought of the Vikings actually paying his $6 million salary seemed a little remote. And why not? At the time, the Vikings made him one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league. Five years later, Nnamdi Asomugha of the Raiders signed a complicated three-year deal that guarantees him $28.5 million in the first two years and, unless it is a figure less than the average of the top five CBs in the league, $16.875 million in 2011. In 2004, Winfield signed a six-year deal worth $34.8 million. He is expecting one last big payday. He'll never make the kind of money seen thrown at Asomugha and underachieving DeAngelo Hall, but Winfield still has some good years left in him. The question is whether that will be with the Vikings.
What makes this situation different than most is that, like Matt Birk a year earlier, Winfield is entering the final year of his contract with little in the way of significant negotiations taking place to lock him down to an extension that would end his career with the Vikings. Birk was looking for an extension and didn't get it. Believing he still can play at a high level, it didn't take long for Birk to sign on with Baltimore. A year later, the same story seems to be playing itself out again.
Given the monstrously high contracts given to cornerbacks like Asomugha and Hall this year, the cost of placing a franchise tag on a cornerback – the Vikings' only other way to prevent Winfield from entering free agency – would be too cost-prohibitive to attempt. Unless a deal is done before or during the season, if Winfield finishes out the season without a new deal, it is all but assured he will hit the free agent market, where competition could garner him a three- or four-year deal, instead of the two years the Vikings are rumored to be offering.
With that potential looming on the horizon, it isn't surprising that Winfield has failed to attend anything remotely related to the team other than his mandatory physical Tuesday, as reported by the Pioneer Press. He was not at the team's minicamp because, according to head coach Brad Childress, Winfield was attending the funeral of the mother of a close friend. Even reading that doesn't make it sound like it's a coincidence. Without a new contract, Winfield has no job security beyond this season. He wants to cash in on the money explosion that has taken off in the NFL since he signed his contract in 2004. It makes sense that he doesn't want to risk injury without more long-term security with the team. In light of this week's injury to Eagles star Brian Westbrook that will require surgery tomorrow, it seems logical for Winfield to take every precaution he has.
Although the Vikings would like to see Winfield in camp, with his experience in Leslie Frazier's defense, it likely won't impair anything when things start heating up at training camp in late July. Look for Winfield to be ready to go when camp opens and fulfill the final year of his current contract with the same class he has brought to the organization since arriving from Buffalo. Do the Vikings wish he was at practice? Sure they do. Can they live without him during the offseason and not take a backward step? Definitely. If anything, it will give the backups more chances to go up against the top offensive threats to improve their own games.