Vikings GM calls release of Antoine Winfield a 'very tough decision'
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The surprising move to release veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield was an "extremely hard decision to make," Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told reporters on Tuesday.
After speaking with Winfield on Tuesday morning, the Vikings finalized their decision to part ways with the 35-year-old cornerback, who originally signed with the team as a free agent in 2004.
"Antoine Winfield was a very tough decision," Spielman said during his 15-minute news conference at the Vikings' Winter Park headquarters. "It was a business decision as we move forward. Antoine is a great football player for us."
Winfield was entering the final year of his contract, due a base salary of $7.25 million.
As 1500 ESPN's Tom Pelissero reported earlier, Winfield's representatives were approached by the Vikings at the NFL scouting combine in February about taking a pay cut in 2013. There were no further talks until Tuesday when the Vikings opted instead to release Winfield.
Spielman repeatedly said he is keeping the "door open" for Winfield's possible return, but this is a common refrain that Spielman has used in the past when discussing the team's personnel decisions.
"We definitely want to keep the door open on his possible return, but at this time we had to release him in order to get him out into free agency," Spielman said.
Although his season was hindered late in the year by a broken right hand, Winfield was in on 89.8% percent of the snaps in 2012, and tallied 100 total tackles and a trio of interceptions.
Spielman did not offer a direct answer to an inquiry on the possibility of Winfield's age and potential for a decline in production next season playing into the Vikings' ultimate decision.
"Antoine played very well last year," Spielman said. "He probably is one of those players that defied odds for his age in what he did for our football team last year. There's no question about what Antoine Winfield does for our football team on the field and off the field as well."
With the final year of Winfield's bonus proration-free contract nixed, the Vikings have freed up $7.25 million of cap space.