Change in plans
After passing on Jets' offer at last minute, Winfield signs with Vikings
Posted: Friday March 5, 2004 6:45PM; Updated: Friday March 5, 2004 7:31PM
By Don Banks, SI.com
After an 11th-hour sales job that coaxed him out of a verbal agreement with the New York Jets, the Minnesota Vikings have addressed their biggest need in free agency, signing cornerback Antoine Winfield.
Winfield, formerly with the Buffalo Bills, will receive a six-year deal from Minnesota that is worth just shy of $35 million. The deal includes a $10.5 million signing bonus.
Winfield on Thursday night nearly signed a six-year, $30 million contract with the Jets, including a $10 million up-front bonus. But Vikings officials pleaded with him to at least visit Minnesota on Friday, and then sent a private jet to pick up him, his wife and agent and bring them to the Twin Cities late Thursday night.
Wearing a Vikings cap, Winfield said Friday at Minnesota's Winter Park that it just didn't work out with the Jets, with whom he visited Wednesday on the first day of free agency.
"When it came down to it, I just wasn't ready. I didn't want to rush," Winfield said, adding that he had promised Vikings coach Mike Tice that he would visit Minnesota before making a decision.
When asked what made him decide on the Vikings, Winfield said, "once we got off the plane, I seen the snow and I was like, 'this is home."'
Winfield, who spent his first five seasons with the Bills, was considered the second-best cornerback on the free-agent market this year, behind Champ Bailey, who was dealt from Washington to Denver this week.
Tice said signing Winfield was one of his two goals heading into free agency. The other, re-signing tight end Jim Kleinsasser, was accomplished Tuesday.
"Some might say [the goal] was to sign a corner but really it wasn't," Tice said. "It was to sign Antoine Winfield, that was the goal."
League sources said Thursday that Winfield had agreed to a $30 million deal with the Jets that included a $10 million bonus. But the team said there was no deal, and Winfield then headed to Minneapolis.
A first-round draft pick in 1999 from Ohio State, Winfield had five interceptions, 409 tackles and one sack in five seasons with the Bills.
Minnesota hasn't had a shut-down corner for more than a decade, said Tice, who first joined the Vikings in 1992 as a player. He said Winfield will add to an already young and talented defense and "hopefully put us over the hump defensively."
"I know they were one play away from making the playoffs last year," Winfield said. "Hopefully with my addition, I can get them to the next level."
The Associated Press contributed to this report