At age 39, Terence Newman still could be valuable piece of Vikings' defense

MINNEAPOLIS -- It might seem odd on its face, given the fact he'll be 39 in September and they've got two first-round picks and a second-rounder on the roster at cornerback. But as he returns for a 15th season in the NFL, Terence Newman could turn out, once again, to be one of the more important players on the roster of the Minnesota Vikings.

Newman saw his playing time dip somewhat in 2016, thanks to the gradual implementation of Trae Waynes and a neck injury that kept Newman out for the Vikings' Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit. But he was still on the field for 72.5 percent of the Vikings' defensive snaps at age 39, starting nine games at left cornerback, and proved again to be a reliable cover corner at age 38.

His careful attention to his health, and his vast knowledge of the Vikings' defense, is enough to give the Vikings confidence Newman can do it again this fall, when he'll be the oldest corner in the league since Darrell Green. And given what has changed for the Vikings this offseason at cornerback, Newman could find himself in the middle of things again in 2017.

With Captain Munnerlyn gone, the Vikings could turn to Mackensie Alexander to play nickel cornerback. But they'd have to be certain that the second-year player is ready to absorb instruction and develop into a consistent corner after a rocky first year in the league. And given what Mike Zimmer said about the changes to the way the Vikings think about their nickel corners, it's possible Newman could see time in the slot.

And while general manager Rick Spielman said Waynes is ready to start, Newman's return means the 11th overall pick in the 2015 draft will have to play well enough to earn that spot, rather than assuming it by default. If the Vikings still believe they can trust Newman -- and their decision to bring him back on a one-year deal, $3.25 million deal, with $1.5 million of guaranteed money, is another reminder that they do -- then Waynes probably will have to outplay the veteran to earn the starting nod from a coaching staff that typically hasn't put players in starting roles just because of where they were drafted.

Even if Newman isn't starting, the Vikings know as well as anyone how important it is to have depth at cornerback. Had he not returned, they would have likely gone into the season with Xavier Rhodes at right corner, Waynes on the left side and Alexander in the slot. That still could be the configuration -- and the Vikings also could sign another corner after showing interest in Nickell Robey-Coleman earlier this week -- but Newman provides another option.

He was a central figure in the bizarre Christmas Eve episode in Green Bay, when Zimmer volunteered the fact the Vikings' defensive backs defied his game plan, and the Vikings' attempts to douse the issue two days later fell a bit flat. But Zimmer said that day that he and Newman "have an unbelievable relationship," and it's difficult to imagine that two men who are about to work together for the ninth season -- in three different cities -- haven't had to patch up disagreements before. The Vikings showed on Wednesday they still value Newman's presence. It's very possible that time will show them to have made a wise decision.