In 2005, many of Keith Newman's defensive teammates considered him one of the leaders of the team. Maybe it was his willingness to speak his mind that put him in that standing, and it was that same unabashed free-wheeling speech that got him going during the last week of the season when talking about his prospects as a free agent this year.
"I don't know what my chances are of being here. I guess it depends on if the organization wants me here," Newman said.
But he knows he felt unappreciated by the Vikings last offseason. After earning a starting spot in the lineup in 2004, Newman was forced to watch Napoleon Harris get handed his starting position as a strongside linebacker.
The Vikings traded for Harris in the Randy Moss swap, and Newman felt the only reason Harris became an instant starter was because he was part of that trade.
"When the trade happened, they traded for a linebacker and it's nothing against Napoleon Harris or anything, but he's basically a Mike or a Will. He plays off the ball and they put him at my spot that I had last year," Newman said. "It was never like I actually lost the spot. It was more like he was part of the Randy Moss trade, so that being said he was going to be out there. I don't think I ever lost the job. I don't think I even got beat out in training camp. I just think it was one of those situations that I couldn't win to start off with. I still think to this day if we hadn't been losing, in the predicament we were in – 1-3 after the first four games – I still might not have got in the starting lineup.
"I don't have any hard feelings. I understand it's a business, but it's kind of tough to say you're going to put your best players on the field and you can't give a guy a reason he's not on the field and you know somebody else is part of a trade."
Sitting on the sidelines isn't something to which Newman was accustomed. Since playing in four games in his rookie season, Newman worked his way into the starting lineups at Buffalo under former defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell and Atlanta before assuming that role with the Vikings.
In 2004 in Minnesota, Newman started 14 of 15 games, producing 71 tackles and 3.5 sacks. In 2005, he had 46 tackles and three sacks before missing the last three games with a sprained knee. The perception of him having a breakout year in 2005 as Harris' eventual replacement is wrong.
"My problem is everybody says I had a better season this year than last year. The only thing is, last year nobody knew who I was coming in here even though I had started the last four or five years in the league. This year, I was sat on the bench for no reason, so when I come out and have the type of season I had, now everybody says, ‘Oh, Keith is having a strong season, he's having this, he's having that.' But when you look at my numbers, my numbers are about the same from last year to this year," Newman said. "Maybe it's people paying more attention because I'm the guy who is outplaying the guy who was part of the Randy Moss trade – you figure it out, I don't know. I wouldn't say I had a better season this year than I did last year. If you look at my numbers, I would say I solidified the Sam linebacker spot. When I got in there this year, I solidified the Sam linebacker spot. To me, if you had a better year or not-so-good year, it's all perception and how somebody perceives it."
It was his beginning of the season, when he started only one of the first four games with Harris penciled in front of him that left Newman irritated all season. He didn't speak out until the playoffs weren't a possibility, and it's unclear how he will be valued in the Vikings' new "Tampa-2" defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin.
"If this organization sees me as being an integral part of this franchise, then they're going to bring me back – so be it. … I'm not going to let somebody else's decision play into my decision. I'll do what's best for Keith Newman and Keith Newman only," he said.
While his performances in both the 4-3 and 3-4 defenses employed by Cottrell earned him the respect of his teammates, he realizes that nothing in free agency is given to players, just like he wasn't just given his starting spot back at the beginning of the season.
Even the business of free agency seems to irk Newman, as he believes players have generally become more adjusted to the free-agent game than organizations.
"I understand it's a business, but I don't think teams understand it's a business from the player's standpoint. I think they know it's a business from their standpoint and they do what's best for them and players understand. But I don't think the team understands when a player, i.e. a Corey Chavous, makes the type of decision he made last offseason when he decided not to come to the voluntary workouts. It's voluntary, (so) why was a big deal made out of it?" Newman inquired. "The guys still came out in excellent shape and had a pretty solid season. Brian Williams, same thing. It's one of those things where I think the player can never win. Organizations make business decisions and players make decisions, but when a player makes a decision, not only does the organization come down on them, the media also comes down on them. It's kind of like the player is in a lose-lose situation."
Maybe this offseason, Newman will get the respect he wants. Then again, with free agency, it's anybody's guess.
Newman Speaks Out, Felt Unappreciated
Viking Update Top Stories
VIDEO: Norv Turner on offensive successMinnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner talks about the success of Sam Bradford, the return of Taylor Heinicke and the variety of receivers on the team.
Viking Update11:25 AM
Edwards apologizes for ‘poor decision’Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator said his decision to drive above the legal blood-alcohol level was a “poor decision” and a “one-time deal.”
Viking Update10:24 AM
Eagles explain their side of Bradford tradeAny Vikings fan is familiar with the nuts and bolts of the Sam Bradford trade. On Wednesday, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz explained their version of…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 10:22 PM
Eagles know Bradford, praise his accuracyThe Minnesota Vikings have leaned a little on Sam Bradford for knowledge on the Philadelphia Eagles, but the Eagles also know Bradford well and rave about his accuracy.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 2:08 PM