For a player who is used to quickly diagnosing defenses and making split-second decisions, patience can be a hard attribute to stomach. But that might be exactly what Antoine Winfield needs.
Winfield is entering the final year of the free-agent contract he signed with the Vikings in 2004, but he has been trying to get an extension to that contract done for the past several months.
"It's too much uncertainly for me," Winfield told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "One day, I'm hearing 'He's a core player, and we're going to do everything to get him signed.' Next day, I'm hearing (from his agent), 'We're not close.'"
The reason the team and the player may not be close could be a matter of each side's perception. Winfield just turned 32 two weeks ago. He would be 33 years old on the first year of any extension that would be given. While Winfield hasn't shown signs of slowing down, age inevitably catches up with players who rely on quickness and speed.
It's one thing to pay a 39-year-old quarterback to drop back and throw a ball, but, as Gus Frerotte proved last year, quarterbacks aren't expected to run effectively, especially the antique versions. Cornerbacks, however, are expected to cover substantial ground on every play.
So far, that hasn't been a problem for Winfield. He made his first Pro Bowl following the 2008 season and was, once again, one of the team's most valuable defenders. Teammates respect Winfield's preparation. In fact, cornerback Marcus McCauley said one of the positive things about his reduced role last year was that he had a chance to watch Winfield perform on the field.
"I try to watch him and reflect on the things that I need to work on. … It really helped me last year to have to sit there and watch," McCauley said.
But, if an extension is going to get done, Winfield is going to have to be realistic. He hasn't said what sort of contract he is seeking, but he isn't likely to get the kind of money garnered by up-and-coming (read: younger) cornerbacks in the league.
Before he hit the free-agent market, the Raiders rewarded Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha with a two-year $28.5 million contract, all guaranteed, with a team option for a third year. However, Asomugha just turned 28 on Monday. He could be facing a similar frustration at the end of his current contract, when he's 31.
DeAngelo Hall signed a signed a six-year, $54 million contract with the Washington Redskins that had $22.5 million in guarantees. He won't turn 26 until November. He'll also be 31 at the end of his current contract.
The common theme is age. As Rick Spielman, the Vikings' vice president of player personnel, has said on multiple occasions when talking about players in their 30s, you can't shellac them to preserve them. Athletes get old and skills deteriorate.
So far, Winfield's skills haven't diminished. But eventually they will, and the Vikings have shown that they aren't willing to break the bank for 30-something players, no matter how savvy or respected they are. They allowed Matt Birk, who turns 33 this month, to leave his hometown team and sign a three-year, $12 million free-agent contract with the Baltimore Ravens with $6 million in guarantees. The Vikings easily could have matched that. Safety Darren Sharper, who will turn 34 in November, was allowed to sign a one-year, $1.7 million contract with the New Orleans Saints that had only a $200,000 signing bonus.
Sharper's relatively cheap contract underscores that it's not just about money when it comes to the Vikings' interest in aging players. Sometimes, the team is just ready to move on.
In Winfield's case, he won't come near the $14 million average per year that Asomugha garnered from the Raiders, who have made some interesting (to put it kindly) signings when it comes to cap economics and player value. And Winfield probably won't garner the nearly $9 million average per year that Hall got from the Redskins, another franchise often associated with spending big without the success to follow.
Until we know what Winfield is really seeking in a contract, it's hard to judge whether or not his requests are legitimate. He certainly won't get the six-year length he got back in 2004, a deal whose base salaries have increased each of the final four years of the contract. In that contract, he was given a $10.8 million signing bonus. And he won't be wooed by the team with a private jet and last-minute phone calls, like he was when the Vikings put on the all-out blitz to intercept him away from the New York Jets while he was waiting for that contract to be processed.
This year, he is scheduled to make $6 million in base salary and may have already forfeited a $100,000 workout bonus while deciding to not attend the organized team activities or minicamp, something he said he wouldn't miss again after he believed that decision led to injuries in 2007.
There is no question that Winfield is a respected player and person by his teammates. He is easy to like, but he has to be realistic with his expectations. The Vikings may want to wait and see how he performs again in 2009, and that's their right. Nothing says players have to be offered extensions before they enter the final year of their contract. From this view, a two- or three-year contract that pays him about what he's making now seems like a fair deal for both sides. Anything other than that may be wishful thinking, at least when it comes to the Vikings' interest. Despite ranking fourth in cash committed to player salaries over the last five years, according to NFL.com, this isn't a franchise that has shown a recent interest in many 30-something players—Brett Favre is the exception, not the rule.
Still, many would like to see Winfield retained.
"I just hope he comes back. That's my friend, my teammate," cornerback Benny Sapp said this spring. "As far as I know, he's still a part of the team. They'll figure it out upstairs or however it goes."
Winfield analysis: It's all about value
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