Antoine Winfield knew what his Minnesota Vikings' teammates needed last week after finishing the season with a disappointing 3-13 record.
Winfield, after all, had been through a 3-13 season with the Buffalo Bills in 2001, his third year in the league.
"What we need to do now is get away from the game, relax, train and be ready for next year," Winfield said.
While many of the Vikings did have plans to get away for a while, Winfield wasn't one of them. Winfield received his unexpected rest when he was lost for the season on Nov. 14 with a broken collarbone. Finally recovered, Winfield planned to start lifting weights last week for the first time since his injury.
"I feel great, 100 percent," Winfield said last Monday as the rest of his teammates were clearing out their lockers and making offseason plans. "It's been, what, six weeks since I had the surgery. I'll be back in here early tomorrow starting rehab, so I'll be good."
Winfield said he is staying in Minnesota and is eager to return after being limited to five games in 2011, the fewest games he's played in a season during his 13-year career. The diminutive cornerback listed at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds first suffered a neck injury causing him to miss four games and then he broke his collarbone in his first game back.
More than just proving he can come back from his latest injuries, Winfield, 38, wants to finish the two years remaining on the 5-year, 36-million contract he signed in 2009. He said he will likely retire at the end of his current contract, proud to play 15 seasons in the NFL, all at cornerback.
"Oh yeah, that will get me to year 15," Winfield said. "I expect to hang them up after that. Fifteen, that's it."
Some have wondered in recent seasons if Winfield might be best suited to move inside to safety. A starter on the outside, Winfield already moves inside to cover the slot receiver in nickel packages, but he has no desire to change positions at this point in his career.
"Safety's not my position," Winfield said. "I like to be in the action at the corner."
While his man-to-man cover skills might have slipped over the years, he is still a standout tackler, much of the reason some believe he could make the transition to safety. Winfield made 42 tackles in his five games this season and had 110 tackles last year, third on the team.
He's also an effective blitzer, accounting for six sacks the past four seasons, but he believes he's better suited for cornerback.
"It's totally different," Winfield said. "I'm coming at different angles. From the outside usually you see an Adrian Peterson or a big guy running right at you. It's a lot different. You've got to have an angle to bring them down.
"Nah safety, I've been playing corner forever. That's my spot."
The Vikings are just ready to have him back in his familiar spot in the secondary, which fell apart as the season progressed due to injuries, absences and poor play. Minnesota allowed a league-high 34 passing touchdowns, the second-highest completion rate (68.2 percent), the seventh most passing yards and tied for the league-low with eight interceptions.
Winfield intercepted a pass in the season-opening loss at San Diego, his only one of the season. However, he was only one interception behind team-leader Jamarca Sanford.
"We've got to take a real hard look at a number of areas, but we definitely have to take a look at what we're doing from a defensive standpoint, and our secondary will be key to that," coach Leslie Frazier said.
Since coming to Minnesota in 2004 as a free agent from the Buffalo Bills, Winfield's been a key to the secondary and been the one steady contributor at cornerback.
Winfield's body might not respond as quickly to the punishment of being a small player in a big man's game. He isn't ready to be finished yet though.
"I still think I can move around and do the things I did at, not at 21, maybe like 26," Winfield said smiling. "But I'm still having fun. I love being out there on the field, in the locker room with the guys. It's all fun to me."
For two more seasons anyway.