Author’s note: this post can be read at the Bleacher Report.
It doesn’t even require reading between the lines, really; Jonathan Vilma’s future in New Orleans – his punishment from the Bountygate fallout notwithstanding – is in doubt.
The Saints made yet another addition to their linebacking core late this afternoon, signing former Seattle inside backer David Hawthorne to a five-year deal.
Hawthorne mans the middle of a defense (similar to Vilma), and is an exceptional run defense player (he has just limited third down value, however).
He’s also not the only new linebacker in town, as both Curtis Lofton and Chris Chamberlain were previously added during the free agency period.
The commitment from New Orleans to those three adds up to 13-years (Hawthorne and Lofton were both signed to five-year deals, Chamberlain a three-year pact), and a numbers crunch that could make Vilma the odd man out.
Despite not knowing what punishment Vilma will receive from the league – it’s a safe bet he will be punished, however – the Saints may be engaging in both preventative maintenance and a push towards the future.
Should Vilma see a multiple game suspension (a possibility some are counting on), New Orleans has already assured itself that the linebacking core wont need to go digging for a fill-in for his services. Beyond that, the Saints could view Vilma as a decreasing commodity. He averaged a career-low 4.91 tackles per game in 2011, and his tackle total has regressed in each of his four seasons with the Saints.
Vilma’s value to the team is more difficult to gauge then the numbers suggest, however, as he’s long been an emotional leader on the New Orleans defense and a player that teammates – veterans and rookies alike – turn to for leadership.
He’s signed with the team through 2013, which includes a base salary of $5.4 million in 2012 and $5.9 million in 2014. That total, combined with the investment made into the trio of new linebackers, suggests that the Saints will have to reconsider their linebacking expenses, and it’s possible that Vilma no longer fits into the team’s long-term salary cap plans.
For now, it’s too early to tell what Vilma’s fate in New Orleans will be – he’s yet to hear from the league about a potential punishment, and the Saints have a multitude of other issues to tend to as Sean Payton’s suspension draws nearer.
All that being said, the signing of David Hawthorne today could signal the impending release of Vilma from New Orleans.