MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings have been looking for a tough, play-making defensive back to cover slot receivers ever since they parted ways with beloved veteran Antoine Winfield before last season.
Captain Munnerlyn is ready to fill those shoes.
The Vikings agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the free agent cornerback on Thursday, continuing the team's aggressive pursuit of defensive help in free agency. Munnerlyn played the first five seasons of his career for the Carolina Panthers, where he returned five of his seven interceptions for touchdowns.
"We have a new coaching staff in Minnesota and I'm excited to get to work with these guys," Munnerlyn told The Associated Press.
After signing a one-year, $1.1 million deal with the Panthers last year, Munnerlyn posted career highs with 74 tackles and 3½ sacks. He also returned both of his interceptions for touchdowns and parlayed that into a deal that could be worth as much as $15 million with the Vikings.
Munnerlyn, who will turn 26 next month, has scored four defensive TDs in the last two years. He was a seventh-round draft choice after leaving South Carolina after his junior season, and the 5-foot-8, 165-pound Munnerlyn has been proving that he belongs ever since.
"Everybody looks at my size and says, 'Oh man, he can't play. He's too short to play outside corner, or he's too short to do this," Munnerlyn said in a conference call later Thursday. "That's the biggest key with me, man. I was just trying to go out there and prove I can be an every-down corner, that I can make plays and bring toughness to a team."
Winfield knows a thing or two about that. The diminutive cornerback spent nine seasons with the Vikings, establishing himself as one of the hardest-hitting defensive backs in the league. Munnerlyn said early in his career his coaches showed him game tape of Winfield.
"I kind of stole some of his game and brought it to my game," Munnerlyn said. "I don't hit as hard as he does. He can really bring it when he tackles. But I try to go out there and make the tackles and make plays just like him."
The Vikings desperately needed another veteran cornerback to add to a young, thin defensive backfield. After cutting Winfield last summer, the Vikings moved Josh Robinson from outside to the slot cornerback. Robinson struggled mightily in the role and former second-round draft choice Chris Cook proved unreliable and unremarkable on the outside. Cook is a free agent.