The Minnesota Vikings released cornerback Antoine Winfield earlier this month in what amounted to a true cap relief move: specifically choosing 27 year old right tackle Phil Loadholt over the soon-to-be 36 year old corner. The Vikings want Winfield back, but the 14 year veteran is not lacking for suitors and will have his choice of numerous teams to play for in 2013.
So its pretty significant that he's decided to visit the Washington Redskins this Wednesday, as his first official (known) free agency visit. They don't just make these visits for fun, and it means that Winfield can see himself with the Redskins in 2013.
Ultimately, this all comes down to what kind of money he can get, and based on current market conditions, we can expect Winfield to go for between $2-3 million on the market on a one-year deal. On principle alone, the Redskins cannot expect to get him for any less than they got E.J. Biggers signed for, which was 1 year, $1.5 million. Biggers to date has been the most expensive free agent added by the Redskins. Only Kory Lichtensteiger ($1.8 million) will count more towards the cap in 2013.
The precident for a multi-year contract exists here for the 36-year old corner: the London Fletcher contract from a year ago. Fletcher made $5.25 million in year one last year with a cap hit of $2.45 million because of bonus proration. With such a contract, the Redskins would be very much blowing away a weak CB market. But the cap hit wouldn't be much different than if the Redskins just offered a one-year market value contract to Winfield, and let him weigh his options.
A veteran player like Winfield has less incentive to sign a one-year deal than a player in his mid-twenties because there's almost nothing a 36 year old can do on the field to increase his value heading into next year. The logic is simple: at this point, each year the player ages impacts his value more negatively than sustained, consistent performance on the field. Adding a fourth pro bowl this year means little when Winfield will be 37 years old next year. Unlike a player like E.J. Biggers, the offer that may get this deal done is multiple years.
In making this move, the Redskins can lock up Winfield for two years at a very reasonable cap number, giving Richard Crawford a legitimate mentor in this defense. I'm not big into the idea of mentors for young players (coaches are rather highly paid to be spending roster spots on mentors), but it needs to be said that the Redskins are incredibly late getting on the slot cornerback bandwagon, dabbling in it for the first time last year with DeAngelo Hall, who — lets be fair here — plays the game differently than most. Winfield would replace Hall's physicality in the lineup, improve the coverage abilities of the unit, and be someone who can play Crawford's role the way it needs to be seen before Crawford himself is expected to play that way.
On the downside: standard injury and attrition associated with aging players. Isn't it concerning that the Redskins would be giving $2+ million/year to a player on the downside of his career. Well, the Redskins gave Cedric Griffin 1/$3MM last offseason right in the middle of crying poor due to the cap penalty.* The Redskins havent had an instance where they have gotten no return on a free agent acquisition in the last three years, at least since Larry Johnson was signed. When you invest in a player like Winfield, the downside focuses not on whether he can play or not, but what percentage of the investment you anticipate to be spent inactive due to age-related injury. If the Redskins get 14 games in 2013 and 5 in 2014, then you take the value of 2 games of Richard Crawford at LCB in 2013 and 11 games in 2014, and add the surplus value (since he will basically play at league minimum) to what Winfield provides. If you're getting $10 million in value from that combination, you'll be alright. If you aren't getting that much return, you'd be better off passing and addressing cornerback in the draft.
*As an aside, as dumb and illogical and unfair as the cap penalty leveraged on the Redskins has been, is there anything more annoying than the Redskins crying poor while giving out contracts to some of the least accomplished players on the market in consecutive years? It started with Cedric Griffin and Brandon Meriweather last year, then continued this offseason with Jeremy Trueblood and Tyler Polumbus. I appreciate that Santana Moss and Adam Carriker took pay cuts, but for a team that really feels the cap crunch, the Redskins flush cap dollars down the drain on replacement-level talent a lot more often than most teams.
There's a football saying that its better to get rid of a player one year too soon than one year too late, which is likely what happened between Winfield and the Vikings. Winfield still plays at a high level, but the end is rapidly approaching, so didn't make sense as a core piece for the Vikings anymore. Winfield makes a lot of sense for the Redskins on a two year committment, because it keeps the Redskins from being stretched thin at the position. He fits into a tight cap situation, and will more than replace the physicality and coverage abilities the Redskins are giving up this offseason. He makes the team better, at a fraction of the cost the Redskins were spending at CB last year. And that's what teams like the Redskins look for when they look to upgrade in the offseason.