Zulgad: Trying to talk Antoine Winfield out of retirement a no-brainer
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Leslie Frazier might not lead the campaign to get Antoine Winfield to reconsider his decision to retire, but it's clear that some of Frazier's players are going to see if the veteran cornerback is really done.
"I will most definitely call him and try to talk him out of retirement," Minnesota Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford said Wednesday. "I'm pretty sure Coach Frazier isn't going to call him, and nobody at the top is going to call him. But I, for sure, am going to reach out to him and see what he thinks."
Sanford can't be blamed for his desire to see if his former teammate is really done playing.
The Seattle Seahawks might not have needed the 36-year-old Winfield - he was going to be released, if he hadn't retired last Saturday -- but the Vikings are likely aware that his presence in their secondary would stand to make a significant difference.
Even if Winfield only was used inside in the nickel defense, when five defensive backs are employed, it would help matters.
As it stands right now, the Vikings will go into Sunday's regular-season opener in Detroit with Chris Cook and Josh Robinson starting at the right and left cornerback spots, respectively, with rookie first-round pick Xavier Rhodes replacing Robinson at the left corner in the nickel.
Robinson, a third-round pick in 2012 out of Central Florida, would then slide to the inside spot that Winfield long ago mastered. Robinson has never played that position, and in the pass-happy NFL, learning on the job is far from ideal.
Cook is the veteran among the Vikings' corners and he is only entering his fourth year. He has never played more than 10 games in a regular season.
If Brad Childress was still coaching the Vikings, odds are he would have immediately called Winfield last weekend and tried to talk him into returning.
Frazier takes a far more savvy approach.
Essentially, he doesn't pester.
Frazier's plan is likely to see how his trio of cornerbacks does in the early going, while also allowing Winfield to get some time away from football. Frazier, of course, realizes that his veteran players will do his work for him and reach out to Winfield. You think Jared Allen or Kevin Williams isn't going to make the same call as Sanford?
Frazier also knows that if Robinson struggles in the nickel that Winfield will be fully aware of this and will realize he's wanted and needed in Minnesota. The Vikings' secondary will get an excellent test in its first two games, facing Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson on Sunday and Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall the following week.
Sanford has no doubt that Winfield still has plenty to offer.
"Most definitely," he said. "He knows there's something there. Everybody knows there's something there. As long as you've got a healthy 2-6 (Winfield's jersey number in Minnesota), you've got something there. Things didn't work out in Seattle for him, but he'd been here for (nine) years so he'll fit right back in with no problem here."
This doesn't mean there might not be a few hurt feelings that have to be overcome.
Winfield was released by the Vikings last March, shortly after the team finalized a $25 million, four-year contract with right tackle Phil Loadholt. That was more than the Vikings expected to have to pay Loadholt and, as a result, Winfield and his $7.25 million base salary for 2013 were sent packing.
The Vikings' goal at that time was to retain Winfield at a lesser price.
The Vikings offered Winfield a fully guaranteed one-year contract for $3 million, according to Pro Football Talk. The Seahawks' offer included only $1 million guaranteed, although the potential total value, with incentives, was for $3 million.
"Once I took my nameplate off that locker (in Minnesota), it was a wrap," Winfield told PFT in June. "It was time to go."
But now it might be time to return.
The Vikings have the ideal structure in place to make things right with Winfield. General manager Rick Spielman is in position to play the "bad cop." The guy who can take the credit, or the blame, for the decision to jettison Winfield.
Frazier, meanwhile, can play the "good cop." The guy who is in the perfect position to tell Winfield he never wanted to let him go and that this is an ideal time to come back and go out on his own terms.
It was no secret that Winfield had a sweetheart deal last season when it came to practice time. Winfield was one of the smartest players in the Vikings' locker room and Frazier knew that he didn't need the constant practice reps. So Frazier made sure Winfield got mental reps, while allowing him to give his body a break and observe many practices.
Winfield would return to Minnesota with the same deal.
"He's the best slot guy I've seen hands down," Sanford said of Winfield. "You've got a linebacker, a safety and a corner all in one. Every time we showed the nickel (defense on tape), 2-6 had a highlight. It speaks for itself, the film that he put out there.
" ... I'm not convinced he's done because I know how much he loves the game but as of right now he says he's done, he's retired. Everybody reaches the point in their career where they are going to get tired and it's time to ride off into the sunset."
Sanford sounds far from convinced that Winfield is ready to make that trip at this point and he might be right. The key now will be convincing Winfield that he isn't finished.