So Newman has returned with his diligence, wisdom and durability for a strong secondary that can never have enough reliable players. The loss of cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who signed with Carolina, made bringing back Newman all the more important. He could wind up in Munnerlyn’s role in slot coverage in the nickel defense, with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes manning the outside spots.
“Whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do it,” Newman said. “I’m kind of getting to the end of the run here, so this marathon is approaching the finish line. For me, I just want to win a ring, so at some point in time I’m going to have to stop chasing.”
Only 17 active NFL players were born in the 1970s , according to the Pro Football Reference website. Only two of them are on defense: Newman (Sept. 4, 1978) and Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison (May 4, 1978). As savvy as Newman has become about caring for his body, he’s not delusional. The narrowing window for him to play in a Super Bowl, let alone win it, made returning to the Vikings an easy decision.
“I know the players on this team, and I know what each and every one of them brings and how we felt after last year, starting 5-0 and then going on a major slide,” Newman said. “I’d like to get that bad taste out of my mouth and finish what we started.”
Three other teams, including Oakland, had contact with Newman’s agent about a contract for 2017. Despite their injury-influenced issues on offense and the 3-8 finish to the 2016 season, the building blocks for a championship contender are still in place in Minnesota. Plus, he has eight seasons and counting in Zimmer’s defense, including the last two with the Vikings.
“What happens this season will definitely play a big part in my decision for next year,” Newman said. “So hopefully we can get it done this year, and I can ride off into the sunset.”
“I can still run. I’m not as fast as I was. I’m still pretty quick. I’m just not as quick as I was. I can still jump. I just can’t jump as high as I used to,” Newman said. “But one thing that I realized with some of the younger players is the mental aspect of the game. The study part. If you do it correctly, those things can diminish and you can still be successful.”
Newman, wide receiver Adam Thielen and backup offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles are the only players whose contracts were up that the Vikings have retained. Munnerlyn is one of eight unrestricted free agents who’ve signed with other teams, and running back Adrian Peterson will eventually be the ninth .
None of the other five remaining unrestricted free agents (running back Matt Asiata, quarterback Shaun Hill, fullback Zach Line, left tackle Jake Long and defensive end Justin Trattou) is expected to return, either. The Vikings have signed four new players: left tackle Riley Reiff, right tackle Mike Remmers, defensive end Datone Jones and running back Latavius Murray.
“You can’t keep everybody,” general manager Rick Spielman said, “and you’re doing the best you can to try to fill the biggest gaps you have on your football team at this point. I know we were very aggressive on identifying the needs of what we had to do in free agency.”