The New Orleans Saints have had a busy offseason as it relates to signing linebackers, adding a trio of veterans in Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain, who all figure to be in the mix for starting roles in 2012.
Vilma has become the face of the 22 to 27 players involved in the infamous Bountygate scandal, which will likely result in fines and/or suspensions for many of those involved. Although no specifics of the punishments have been officially decided upon by Commissioner Roger Goodell, Vilma reportedly expects to serve a suspension that will last between two and eight games, according to NFL.com.
Taking into account each of the factors above, it's not hard to reach the conclusion that Vilma no longer figures to be an integral member of the Saints long-term plans. Sprinkle in his 2011 season (which was easily his least productive as a Saint), and one can pose the question of whether 2012 will be his last in New Orleans.
Should Vilma's supposition that he'll receive multi-game suspension prove correct, that opens a window for Lofton to thrive in the middle of the Saints defense. Heck, even if Vilma were somehow not to be suspended, Lofton is still likely to start in his place, as Lofton presents a far superior package of play-making, athleticism and overall ability.
If Vilma falls down the ladder on the Saints depth chart, the next scenario to consider is how else Vilma can contribute for New Orleans. While it's not entirely impossible to see him shift to a strong- or weak-side linebacker position, it remains unlikely given the commitments New Orleans made to Hawthorne and Chamberlain.
So if a starting role proves not to be on the table, how much can a team afford to pay a reserve linebacker who offers at-best average special teams value at this stage of his career (moreover, would Vilma be willing to transition to being a core special teamer after many years as a defensive starter)?
The contract details of his restructured deal remain unknown, but it would take a steep pay cut for Vilma to fit into the range of what a backup is typically paid, given the fact that he was due to make over $5 million in each of the next two seasons.
Vilma has played an important role in the resurrection of the Saints franchise since arriving in New Orleans in 2008. He's a respected teammate and a defensive leader within the Saints locker room.
Cutting ties with players like that is never easy. But, considering all of the circumstances involved, it's safe to say that the writing could be on the wall for Vilma in New Orleans.
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