Vikings want to move Antoine Winfield into reduced role, coach says
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Leslie Frazier has made clear he wants Antoine Winfield to play a 14th NFL season for the Minnesota Vikings. But the veteran cornerback's days as a full-time starter may finally be over as the team tries to preserve its oldest player.
"I hope going forward that's not the case, that he doesn't need to be playing 60, 70 snaps (a game)," Frazier said of Winfield last week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
"It's not good for him. I don't think it's the best thing for our team. We need him to be able to stay healthy, help us in the classroom, help us on the field. So, we definitely want him back, but we do need to reduce his snaps."
Frazier hinted at a similar plan one year ago, when Winfield -- approaching his 36th birthday this summer -- was coming off a 2011 season derailed by a neck strain and a broken collarbone.
The Vikings selected Josh Robinson in the third round out of Central Florida in last year's draft, hoping he'd take over as the starter opposite Chris Cook sooner than later and allow Winfield to play strictly in the slot with the nickel defense.
Then, Cook broke an arm, Robinson progressed more slowly than expected and Winfield ended up playing 89.8% of the snaps (1,076 total, including playoffs) -- a number that would've been even higher if he hadn't broken his right hand on Dec. 23 and been limited the last two games.
"I think he and the kid down in Tampa (Ronde Barber, who turns 38 in April) are the oldest defensive backs in the league," Frazier said. "Playing corner at his age and doing what he did -- pretty impressive."
Winfield was productive, too, despite practicing sparingly most of the season to rest his body and a balky knee. He tied for the team lead with three interceptions and recorded 114 tackles (83 solo, 12 for loss), starting every game except the win over Tennessee on Oct. 7.
The eventual move to a part-time role was anticipated as far back as 2009, when the Vikings and Winfield's agent, Ashanti Webb, negotiated a contract that included de-escalators if he came up short of certain play-time thresholds.
His lack of playing time in 2011 triggered a de-escalator that dropped his base salary last season to $3 million. But Winfield's snap count in 2012 earned back $2.5 million in incentives and locked in his base salary at $7.25 million for 2013, the last year of his contract.
It remains possible the Vikings will ask Winfield to take a pay cut or otherwise renegotiate his deal, which has been discussed internally. But there's little question about his value to a secondary that needs further upgrades one way or another.
"We'd like for Chris to stay healthy," Frazier said. "We think that would solve a lot of issues, because when he has played, we've seen him just get better and better and then something would happen. But we think Josh is going to come along for us and do a great job. He's showed glimpses of a guy who can be a potential starter for us long-term. ...
"Antoine's getting a little bit older. We know that. So, we are going to have to address some issues there. We're not through in really getting our secondary the way we want it."