Could Antoine Winfield Return to the Minnesota Vikings?

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The Minnesota Vikings made a surprising and unexpected move back in mid-March when they released 14-year veteran Antoine Winfield.

The Vikings had approached Winfield, who was slotted to make $7.25 million in base salary, about a pay-cut before releasing him.

Immediately after the release, general manager Rick Spielman wouldn't rule out a return for Winfield. In fact, Spielman was more than happy to have Winfield back in the organization.

"By no means do we want to shut out Antoine," Spielman said back in March. "We, hopefully, want to have the door open for his return, if that's possible."

Winfield ultimately signed with the Seattle Seahawks, a huge disappointment to Vikings fans. But Winfield's time with the Seahawks was limited as he was released last week, playing in only two of the Seahawks' four preseason games.

Winfield, 36, played in 1,074 of the Vikings' 1,200 defensive snaps last season (89.5%, including playoffs) despite playing the last couple games with a broken right hand. He finished the season playing at a high level as he recorded 101 tackles -- the most tackles he recorded in a single year with the Vikings. He also tied for the most interception (3) on the team with rookie Harrison Smith.

Just because Winfield is retired doesn't mean he will be out for football for good. Head coach Leslie Frazier commented on Winfield on Monday, telling media he would welcome Antoine back into the organization.

"I have a ton of respect for Antoine," Frazier said. "If he wanted to play, I'd welcome the opportunity to work with Antoine again, if that's what he wanted to do."

The Vikings obviously have interest in Winfield returning, but would it benefit the organization? Winfield would give the Vikings' secondary an instant veteran leader and presence. The Vikings' current oldest player in the secondary is 28-year-old safety Jamarca Sanford. In other words, the Vikings have an extremely young and inexperienced secondary.

Winfield would also help fill the nickel-corner role, a spot that is supposed to be manned by second-year corner Josh Robinson. Robinson struggled in the preseason as he got ripped apart by the 49ers' offense in the third preseason game. Bringing in Winfield would allow another year for Josh Robinson to learn the ropes from a true professional.

Although Winfield would be a huge asset for the Vikings, he would also hinder the progress of the younger corners on the team. Yes, Winfield would mentor the younger players in the secondary like Josh Robinson and Xavier Rhodes, but he would also take away playing time, the most important learning tool for any young player. It would be best if Winfield returned in a limited role -- playing around 50% of all defensive snaps -- helping coach the young secondary while still making impact plays of his own.

Another downside of bringing in Winfield is in regards to his recent injury history. In the 2011 season, Winfield played only five games after suffering from a neck injury followed by a season-ending broken collarbone. Last season, he played through a broken hand, still managing to play nearly 90% of all defensive snaps as mentioned above. Most recently, Winfield missed the Seahawks' third preseason game with a sore knee. The sore knee may have a deciding factor in helping Winfield hang up the cleats.

At the end of the day, there is nothing terrible that would happen if the Vikings decided to re-sign the nine-year Viking. The only potential downside is if Winfield was to get injured right away. Is that move worth taking? Only time will tell.

Potentially the best scenario is getting Winfield to be a defensive backs coach in Minnesota. For now, Winfield can enjoy every bit of retirement after nine outstanding seasons with the Vikings.

All quotes obtained from live press conferences.

Dennis Parsons is a Minnesota-area sportswriter covering the Minnesota Vikings for Vikings Central. He previously covered all Minnesota professional sports teams for Minnesota Sports News Nightly. You can email him at or follow him on twitter @Parsons_VC.

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