EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In the middle of a hectic Tuesday, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman came down from his Winter Park office and marched to a field house podium to debrief the media on a week that had already been wild and was only growing busier.
Yes, Spielman had clearance to officially announce the Percy Harvin trade. But that was Monday's news, ancient history in a league where the news cycle spins faster than a super-tornado.
And sure, the Vikings' ability to re-sign right tackle Phil Loadholt minutes before free agency opened on Tuesday provided a major boost to the offense.
But unquestionably, the biggest news surrounded the release of cornerback Antoine Winfield, a surprising move that left one of the most respected players in the organization feeling confused and sour.
The transaction itself, with Winfield due $7.25 million in 2013, wasn't a total shock. The Vikings saw that as too much to invest in a soon-to-be 36-year-old cornerback. And creating additional salary cap room may have allowed the organization to better work their plans for re-signing players and exploring the rest of the free agent market.
But, according to an NFL source, the way Winfield's dismissal unfolded proved incredibly awkward. Cold even. And those are the nice ways of putting it.
Winfield was at Winter Park on Tuesday routinely working out. Approximately an hour before the NFL's free agency period opened at 3 p.m., he was summoned upstairs and told he had been cut.
The discussion was brief and unceremonious, the kind of sobering transaction players are always bracing for but never ready for.
"It was a business decision as we move forward," Spielman explained later.
But then the Vikings GM hinted he wanted to "keep the door open on (Winfield's) possible return." And he echoed that sentiment six times during a 15-minute presser.
Yet that "door could still be open" rhetoric was news to Winfield and his agent, neither of whom had been told that when communicating with the Vikings 90 minutes earlier.
They were simply led to believe this was the end -- harsh but necessary.
Winfield, the source said, initially felt confused and blindsided, never led to believe this might be a possibility until it happened. The 87-hour window that agents for free agents had for negotiating had passed. Winfield was suddenly out of a job and also playing from behind in finding a new team.
After nine years in the organization, the cornerback felt he deserved better, that he was owed more. On top of that, the source said, contrary to other published reports, the Vikings had never proposed a possible restructuring of Winfield's contract as a means of keeping him.
And while that wasn't a pitch the cornerback's camp had been willing to entertain, the proposal should have been made if the Vikings were seriously entertaining having Winfield back.
Spielman said Tuesday he had "a very good conversation" with Winfield and classified the move to release him as "extremely, extremely difficult."
This wasn't any old way-past-his-prime veteran. This was Winfield, the guy who had logged nine seasons with the Vikings, consistently wowing those around him with his unique combination of toughness and intelligence. This was the charismatic leader beloved by the coaching staff. The guy, who in his 14th season epitomized the Vikings' 2012 resurgence, delivering wonderful production while galvanizing the young secondary around him.
Even his play last season was youthful: 110 tackles, 11 for loss, three interceptions, a fumble recovery and 13 passes defended.
By late Tuesday, at least a half-dozen surprised teams had inquired about him. The Vikings insist they are leaving their doors open if nothing works out.
But at this point, the source said, Winfield views that rhetoric simply as a way of politely kicking him out the door. It's far from the exit he envisioned.
He still plans to play in 2013. But somewhere else.
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