Linebacker Anthony Barr’s decision to back out of his agreement to sign with the New York Jets and return to the Vikings on Tuesday, would be more surprising if it didn’t involve a player spurning Gang Green for the Purple.
This marks the second time in two years the Vikings got a player the Jets wanted. A year ago, the Jets reportedly offered Washington free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins a three-year, $90 million contract. Cousins used that offer to get more money from the Vikings and agreed to take a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal in Minnesota.
In that case, Cousins had not agreed to a deal with the Jets and simply used them. Barr’s reversal sounds more like what happened 15 years ago when the Jets thought they had Buffalo free agent cornerback Antoine Winfield signed to a six-year, $30 million contract.
Winfield reportedly had agreed in principle to that contract with New York, but that did not cause Vikings coach Mike Tice to give up on landing Winfield. Tice’s persistence was impressive because Winfield had cancelled three flights to visit the Vikings as his agent finalized his deal in New York.
The issue is those were commercial flights — this was before Zygi Wilf bought the team from Red McCombs and Red wasn’t about to charter a plane — and so Tice got an idea. He reached out to a friend from the horse racing world on the East Coast, Mike Pegram, the owner of the 1998 Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet, and asked if he could use his plane to bring Winfield to Minnesota.
Pegram said yes.
Tice then reached out to Winfield and had quarterback Daunte Culpepper and wide receiver Randy Moss do the same. Winfield put his agreement with the Jets on hold and made the trip to Minnesota. The Jets remained set to introduce Winfield at a Friday press conference, but he ended up signing a $34.8 million contract with the Vikings that included a $12.8 million signing bonus. That was $2.8 million more than the Jets were offering.
ESPN reported that sources said there were personal reasons Winfield signed with the Vikings and not the Jets, including his wife’s reluctance to live on Long Island. Winfield, asked what made him pick the Vikings, said: “Once we got off the plane, I seen the snow and I was like, ‘This is home.'”
Winfield went on to spend his final nine NFL seasons with the Vikings and became one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league. That was the Vikings’ first off-the-field victory over the Jets. Turned out, it wouldn’t be the last.