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Winfield will miss Vikings' minicamp, but not due to contract

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield was not on the field when the Minnesota Vikings opened a mandatory three-day minicamp on Friday, and coach Brad Childress said he didn't expect to see him all weekend long.

Winfield is entering the final year of his contract, but the coach said his absence is not contract-related. Winfield left town to attend the funeral of a close friend's mother.

2008 Statistics
Tackles: 95

Sacks: 2.0

INTs: 2

Winfield was the only player on the 85-man roster who was not on the field when the minicamp opened on Friday. He is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance and will turn 32 in June.

His agent, Ashanti Webb, did not immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press.

Webb said earlier this month that contract negotiations had reached an impasse, but Childress has said multiple times this offseason that the team would like to get a deal done to keep him in Minnesota.

Childress said he had lunch with Winfield on Wednesday and has also spoken to Webb this week. When asked if he read anything more into Winfield's absence, Childress said, "I don't, no."

Childress declined to comment on whether Winfield would face any penalties for missing the mandatory camp.

"You know, we kind of deal with that internally," Childress said.

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Winfield has long been considered one of the NFL's fiercest players, pound-for-pound. In his 10th season out of Ohio State, Winfield had 95 tackles, four forced fumbles, two interceptions and two sacks to lead one of the league's best defenses.

Considered perhaps the top tackler at the cornerback position, the diminutive Winfield has gained a reputation for recklessness while hurling his slight frame at the legs of pulling offensive linemen who are often nearly twice his size.

"Antoine is a very valuable member to our team," cornerback Cedric Griffin said. "He's very key. He makes a lot of tackles, a lot of plays. Every member of our team is very important and when we don't have one guy in, we're going to take it like it is and when he gets back we are going to embrace him and we're going to play well again."

The style of play that has earned him so much respect in his own locker room and throughout the league may also be a big reason why he hopes to have a longer-term deal in place before the season begins. He is due to make $6 million in base salary this season.

"(In) this game too easily you can get caught up and think it's personal, but it is business," linebacker Ben Leber said. "I respect Antoine as a player and person. He's going to take care of what he's got to take care of. We'll welcome him back when he comes back."

Winfield has established a work ethic in his five years in Minnesota that teammates trust, and they say they know he will not let any contract situation become a distraction.

"He's not around talking to people about it," receiver Bobby Wade said. "He's a really quiet guy and handles it the way he needs to handle it.

"I think one is for sure, he doesn't want to be disruptive at all. But if you play long enough, you know it's a personal situation and you have to handle it the way you need to handle it."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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