Last one out the door in Minnesota, turn out the lights? It only seems that way. One day after the VIkings traded receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks for a number of draft picks, it was announced that they are set to release cornerback Antoine Winfield, as well. Tom Pelissero of ESPN 1500 in Minneapolis was among the first with the news. The release seems logical on its face -- Winfield will be 36 years old in June, was expected to continue with the team in a reduced role if he stayed, and refused to take a pay cut.
However, the on-field and statistical stories prove Winfield's value. He's become a great slot cornerback in an NFL where that position is more important than ever, and he's perhaps the best run-stopping cornerback in the league. Per Pro Football Focus' metrics, he had 34 tackles and 26 "stops" (plays for negative yardage) in 354 run snaps in 2012, amassing a 7.3% stop rate that was by far the best at his position. He played 326 pass-play snaps in the slot, allowing no touchdowns, and just 34 catches for 337 yards on 51 targets.
In addition, Winfield has been a veteran leader for a very young secondary, and this is where he'll be missed by his former coaches. One of those coaches told NFL.com's Ian Rapoport that the release robs the Vikings of "a valuable contributor, an excellent leader. Someone will be lucky to have him." Another member of the team told Rapoport that the move is "a move backwards."
The Vikings will save $7.25 million with the release, but when you play in a division where your opposing quarterbacks are Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Jay Cutler, you need all the pass defense you can get. Age notwithstanding, Winfield should have a number of suitors for his skill set.
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