RENTON — Once he was cut in Minnesota for cap reasons, veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield made it a point to have his representatives reach out to the Seattle Seahawks to see if he could fit with one of the more talented defensive back units in the NFL.
Seattle was plenty interested in adding a former All-Pro to its already stacked secondary, another chapter in an offseason where the Seahawks have made one impressive move after another.
“This year we feel blessed. I think it’s a testament to coach (Pete) Carroll’s staff and the way they treat the players as men,” Seattle general manager John Schneider said Wednesday. “I think that’s kind of gotten around the league and the competition thing is real here. I think players also feel they’re going to be put into a position to accentuate their strengths.”
Winfield officially became the latest free agent to sign with the Seahawks when his one-year contract with the club was announced on Wednesday. Winfield joins an impressive list of offseason acquisitions by the Seahawks, along with the signings of defensive linemen Cliff Avril, Tony McDaniel and Michael Bennett, and the trade that brought wide receiver Percy Harvin to Seattle from Minnesota.
Seattle’s secondary features two All-Pros in cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas and past Pro Bowl selections Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor. Now Winfield is added to the mix, likely to be the Seahawks’ fifth defensive back playing in the slot.
“While he doesn’t necessarily fit our size requirements for the position, he’s always been a player that compensated for that deficiency with his intensity, his instincts and his tackling skills,” Schneider said. “He’s always been a phenomenal run support player. … He’s very instinctive inside and he had a very nice season last season. You could see him playing inside against bigger guys like Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson and disrupting them.”
Winfield’s time in Minnesota came to an abrupt and surprising end in March when the 35-year-old had his contract terminated to clear more salary cap space. Minnesota was reportedly trying to bring Winfield back on a deal that didn’t cause such a hit to its salary cap, but he opted for joining the Seahawks. Schneider described Winfield as feeling “angst” as he weighed the offers from Seattle and Minnesota.
Winfield was due a $7.25 million salary in 2013. One of the most popular players in the Vikings’ locker room, Winfield had a hard-hitting style, extensive experience and exceptional tackling ability that made him the soul of the defense for the last nine seasons.
Winfield’s playing time was reduced in 2012 to preserve his health, but he had one of the most productive seasons of his career with 11 tackles for loss, three interceptions and 13 passes defended.
“A player of this caliber you want to show as much respect as you can for them, so we wanted to be very careful what kind of offer we were going to make, if anything. And what we did is coach Carroll had a great conversation with Antoine about his general philosophy about competition at each position so he understood what he was getting into,” Schneider said.
Schneider also said it was too early to determine where Chris Clemons’ recovery from ACL surgery is and whether he would be a candidate for the physically unable to perform list when the season begins. Clemons was injured in Seattle’s playoff victory at Washington.