MINNEAPOLIS (June 16, 2007) -- Minnesota Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield has decided to join the team for the last two offseason practices.
All it took, apparently, was a few quality conversations with coach Brad Childress.
Winfield showed up for Minnesota's mandatory minicamp two weeks ago, but until now has declined to participate in the series of late-spring noncontact workouts known around the league as organized team activities -- or OTAs. The Vikings have two more scheduled for next week, and Winfield told Childress that he'll be there.
"I'm glad he's going to be back," Childress said in a brief phone interview. "He's a seasoned veteran, a good football player and a good person."
So what prompted the change of mind?
Childress deferred comment on that to one of Winfield's agents, Ashanti Webb, who described an improved line of communication over the past few months between a coach still figuring out how to relate to his team and a player with an introverted personality.
It was not, Webb said, an adjustment of the six-year contract he signed before the 2004 season.
"That was so far from what was going on," Webb said. "He's happy with his contract, and you know he's happy to be playing in Minnesota."
Though the OTAs are not required, attendance is frequently near 100 percent in today's year-round NFL where coaches are just as busy teaching and evaluating in June as they are in the fall and players don't stop their strength and conditioning programs just because there's no game on the schedule.
Winfield was the only Vikings player who chose not to participate this spring, preferring instead to work out and prepare for the season on his own. Childress initially expressed disappointment with the absence of one of his best and most popular players, but the coach has since backed off a bit.
"We are all kind of mother hens when it comes to our football teams, and we just like to have our guys around," Childress said.
The Vikings went 6-10 during a difficult first year with Childress in charge, and the defense grew especially frustrated with the lack of production by a struggling offense. Winfield was one of the public critics of what he called predictable play calling.
Even at minicamp, he indicated he wasn't happy with the talent level on offense -- and that the front office didn't do much through free agency to supplement it.
Now, apparently, he has a better view of the team's approach to building a playoff-caliber team. Through those talks with Childress and personal reflection, Winfield was reminded of long-term contract extensions recently given to important players like linebacker E.J. Henderson, offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie and defensive tackle Kevin Williams.
"It was never any kind of boycott," Webb said. "He just needed to do some things to get himself right physically and mentally."
Winfield and Childress, Webb said, have exchanged a handful of e-mails and text messages in addition to phone calls and face-to-face chats.
"I'd say that the process really worked out," Webb said. "He and Brad have been able to build a really good relationship."