Already thin at linebacker, and with two players at the position suddenly facing possible legal charges, the Minnesota Vikings on Tuesday morning signed unrestricted free agent Keith Newman, who played with the Atlanta Falcons last season.
Contract details for the five-year veteran, who will be playing for his third team in three seasons, were not yet available. Newman participated in the Vikings' offseason workout on Tuesday.
Newman, 27, has played the strongside and weakside positions during his career and has been a starter at both spots. He may be asked by Vikings coaches to learn the middle spot as well, given the team's lack of depth.
The former North Carolina standout played the first four seasons of his career with the Buffalo Bills, who selected him in the fourth round of the 1999 draft, and then signed with the Falcons last spring after he was released. Atlanta, which has a new coaching staff and a new defensive scheme, released Newman three months ago.
He started in 10 of his 12 appearances with the Falcons in 2003, after missing the first four outings of the season because of a league suspension for a repeat violation of the NFL banned substances policy. Newman finished with 40 tackles, one interception, two sacks and one pass defensed.
With the Bills, he broke into the starting lineup in 2000, and Newman has averaged 13 starts over the past four seasons. His career totals include 290 tackles, 16 ½ sacks, six forced fumbles, one interception and 13 passes defensed.
With the Vikings, he will be reunited with new defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, who held the same position in Buffalo during Newman's first two years with the Bills.
Minnesota coach Mike Tice has suggested for several weeks that the Vikings might seek to add a veteran linebacker before the start of training camp and events of the past few weeks heightened that necessity.
Longtime veteran middle linebacker Greg Biekert retired last month and Minnesota released another veteran, part-time strongide starter Henri Crockett. The heir apparent to the middle linebacker slot, second-year veteran E.J. Henderson, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee two weeks ago to repair damaged cartilage. Strongside starter Chris Claiborne is also recovering from offseason surgery.
Then early Sunday morning, Henderson and fellow second-year veteran Mike Nattiel, who is expected to vie for the starting weakside position, were two of three Vikings players arrested during an alleged fight outside a Minneapolis night club. The third player was tight end Steve Farmer.
The players have not been formally charged but, based on the resolution of the case, the three players could fall under the purview of the NFL's personal conduct policy, and they could face league sanctions. Even with the addition of Newman, the Vikings might still consider signing another veteran linebacker.