When the Vikings unexpectedly released cornerback Antoine Winfield minutes before free agency started to create $20-plus million in cap space, it was believed the team was setting up for some sort of free agent splash.
There was a splash alright.
Minnesota announced the signing of wide receiver Greg Jennings to a five-year deal Friday evening, hours after they officially signed quarterback Matt Cassel.
According to ESPN, Jennings signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with $18 million guaranteed. Earlier in the day, Cassel signed a one-year $4 million contract at Winter Park.
It’s possible that the team concluded sometime during the three-day legal tampering period that they would pursue Jennings at the start of free agency and swiftly determined that they needed to release Winfield in order to afford Jennings. The manner in which Winfield was released could be because the team realized shortly before free agency that they had a real shot at landing Jennings.
Phil Loadholt’s growing salary due to Chicago’s late pursuit shortly before free agency also likely added to the team’s decision to release Winfield. The Vikings also wanted to make sure they could bring back several of their own unrestricted free agents, including Jerome Felton and Jerome Simpson.
Even the days leading up to free agency, talk among NFL agents were that Minnesota would sign Cassel to back up starter Christian Ponder. The team simply needed cap space in order to accomplish what they did the days leading up to Friday.
The way Winfield was released was not ideal, but if the plan was to sign Cassel, Jennings and all their own free agents, it simply had to be done.