METAIRIE, La. — Derek Newton said he was laid up in bed for nearly two months, then in a wheelchair for nearly three weeks, then on crutches after he tore both of his patellar tendons in a devastating 2016 injury with the Houston Texans.
Two years later, he was back on the practice field for the first time this week after signing with the New Orleans Saints.
“It feels good, man. Two years has been a long time. A long journey. But I’m back, thankful,” said the 31-year-old offensive lineman, who believes he would be the first player ever to return from tearing both patellar tendons at the same time if he ever plays in a game with the Saints.
“It was a lot of ‘what ifs’ and ‘Will I ever be back to playing again?'” Newton said. “But I had my doctor in my corner, a lot of praying was done for me … God, of course … and just put in the work. Worked hard through the bad times and enjoyed the good times, and now I’m back here. So I’m feeling good.”
Newton said he was emotional when he got the call that New Orleans had signed him. He was actually on his way to Nashville at the time for a workout with the Tennessee Titans. He had also worked out for the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals during this season once he felt healthy enough to be at his best.
“Yeah, I was [emotional]. It being late in the season, you’re like, ‘What’s gonna happen?’ So I was kind of in my feelings or whatever,” Newton said. “But like I said, my friends kept me working out. So when I got the opportunity to work out, I gave it my all. …
“The time paid off, being patient.”
Newton, who started 68 games for the Texans from 2012 to 2016, primarily at right tackle, said he is a little lighter now than his listed playing weight of 315 pounds — in part to ease the pressure on his knees.
When asked if he thinks the Saints expect him to contribute during this season’s playoff run or if they’re trying to get an early look at him for 2019, Newton said, “Whatever they was thinking, I’m happy. I’m glad to be here, glad to have another shot at playing football.”
“I’m trying to knock as much rust off as I can. I’ve been down for a minute, but today I feel pretty good,” Newton said. “A little sluggish, but that’s gonna come with it, being out that long.”
The Saints needed offensive-line depth this week after veteran guard/tackle Michael Ola was placed on injured reserve. They’re hoping to get starting left tackle Terron Armstead back from a pectoral injury soon, though.
Saints coach Sean Payton said Newton’s workout went well and the team felt he was in shape.
“The question certainly was his health. But it was an impressive [workout], and he was a guy that’s been on our short list,” Payton said.
Veteran Saints offensive tackles Armstead and Jermon Bushrod both said Newton’s comeback story is amazing.
“That takes a strong-willed person to come back from something like that,” Bushrod said.
“I couldn’t imagine what he’s had to go through these past two years to come back and play at this level,” said Armstead, who said he knew about Newton and his injury but didn’t realize he had been working his way back to the NFL until he joined the Saints. “To go through some agonizing pain, suffering, a long rehab, that speaks to him. I haven’t known him long. But he seems like a really good guy, tough, and seemed happy to be here.”