The Vikings initiated something of a youth movement with the roster moves they made to set their 53-man roster Saturday, bidding farewell to their longest-tenured player while turning their oldest into an assistant coach.
Cornerback Terence Newman, who turns 40 on Tuesday, announced his retirement Saturday afternoon. The 15-year veteran will join the Vikings coaching staff immediately, the team announced, with Newman’s role to be detailed further at a later date. The team also released defensive end Brian Robison, who’d taken pay cuts to stay with the Vikings each of the past two years but had no guaranteed money in his 2018 deal. Robison, who turned 35 in April, leaves the team after 11 seasons.
Newman, who had said 2018 would be his final NFL season, re-signed with the team for the veteran’s minimum salary of $1.015 million on April 30. He had played in the Vikings’ nickel package on early downs during their first three preseason games — much as he’d done last year — but as undrafted free agent Holton Hill continued to push for a roster spot, it seemed possible something would have to give in the Vikings’ crowded defensive backfield.
Coach Mike Zimmer has long said Newman had the skills to be an NFL coach, and the only question would be whether Newman envisioned such a role for himself. At least for 2018, he will continue to be a resource to a Vikings secondary that has looked to Newman for guidance since he first joined the team in 2015.
The fifth pick in the 2003 draft, Newman played for Zimmer in three different cities, working with him in Dallas for four seasons and joining him in Cincinnati in 2012 before following him to Minnesota a year after Zimmer became the Vikings’ head coach. Newman retires with 42 interceptions, eight forced fumbles and two sacks. He was a Pro Bowl pick in 2007 and 2009.
Aside from shifting Newman to a role on the coaching staff and releasing Robison, the Vikings’ highest-profile move on Saturday was the release of receiver Kendall Wright, whom the team signed to a one-year deal in the spring. The former Titans and Bears receiver had joined the team as a potential slot receiver, but Laquon Treadwell’s improvement in camp put him ahead of Wright in the Vikings’ three-receiver sets, and the Vikings opted to keep both Brandon Zylstra and Stacy Coley ahead of Wright.
The team will start the season with five receivers and five running backs, after opting to keep both Mike Boone and Roc Thomas on its 53-man roster to provide extra depth in a backfield where the Vikings could opt to break in Dalvin Cook slowly after his return from a torn ACL last year.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings opted to keep 11 defensive backs, hanging on to Hill and veteran Marcus Sherels (who will serve primarily as the team’s punt returner). The Vikings will entrust much of the nickel cornerback role to Mackensie Alexander and possibly first-round pick Mike Hughes, who has impressed coaches and teammates this summer.
The emergence of young pass rushers in Stephen Weatherly and Tashawn Bower helped trigger the release of Robison, who leaves tied for fifth in team history with 60 sacks.
Weatherly and Bower will be the Vikings’ primary backups behind Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, while the team retains five defensive tackles: Sheldon Richardson, Linval Joseph, 2017 fourth-rounder Jaleel Johnson, 2018 fourth-rounder Jalyn Holmes and free-agent pickup David Parry.
Elflein to return
The Vikings did get some good news for their offensive line Saturday when they activated center Pat Elflein from the physically-unable-to-perform list. An NFL source said Elflein would practice for the first time Sunday since having offseason ankle and shoulder surgery, and though he won’t be ready for the regular-season opener against San Francisco, he should be back soon, provided he’s able to handle contact without any issues.