The Vikings are coming under fire from reporters who believe they badly mishandled Antoine Winfield’s release on Tuesday and made themselves look like classless buffoons. As you know, Winfield was cut for salary cap reasons just as free agency was about to kick off. It wasn’t an entirely unexpected move given Winfield’s age and cap number. It was somewhat surprising to learn that the Vikings undertook the move without first offering Winfield the chance to renegotiate his contract.
Things got more complicated as details emerged about the way the release was handled. Reportedly, Winfield was at the Winter Park facility working out when he was called into Rick Spielman’s office. What ensued is being described as “short, awkward conversation.” Winfield was told he was no longer a member of the Vikings. And that was that. No invitation to re-do the contract. He was simply called upstairs and told he was no longer on the team. A nine-year run in Minnesota ends with a sudden, apparently very uncomfortable and arguably classless severing of ties.
In his press conference Tuesday, Spielman did indicate that the team would reach out to Winfield and try to get him back at a reasonable rate. The GM called the decision to cut Winfield “extremely extremely difficult.” Obviously it was tough for Winfield too or he wouldn’t have made sure to get word out there about his poor treatment.
If it’s true the Vikings did treat Winfield as shabbily as is being portrayed, that doesn’t reflect very well on Spielman’s leadership. The Vikings run a tight ship but in this case the veil was peeled back a little and you see that maybe Rick isn’t quite as good at handling these tough situations as he should be. Spielman may be smooth when delivering his canned press conference nonsense but evidently he is not quite so slick when it comes to face-to-face meetings with players. If things went down as they are being described, Winfield has good reason to be miffed.
As for Winfield’s immediate future, it appears the door has been slammed on a return to the Vikings. Indications are that Winfield will look elsewhere for employment as he tries to extend his career. Washington, Seattle, Green Bay and New England are already being brought up as potential destinations. As we saw last year, Winfield still has plenty to offer as a defensive back. He’s still physical, still a terrific tackler, still incredibly savvy and still a leader. Wouldn’t surprise me to see him get picked up by a contender. He commands tremendous respect around the league. Rick Spielman maybe not so much after this apparent fiasco.
Be a shame to see the Vikings miss out on a top free agent now, just because of one ill-handled move.