Word came late last night via ESPN's Chris Mortensen that the NFL was in settlement talks with Jonathan Vilma about possibly reducing his year-long suspension to eight games. (NFL Network's Steve Wyche has followed up with a report that says the league has offered nothing of the sort.)
If the league has indeed engaged in talks about a possible reduction of Vilma's suspension, the New Orleans Saints may end up finding themselves in a bit of a bind.
The Saints brought in Curtis Lofton from Atlanta and David Hawthorne from Seattle in free agency in an attempt to not only improve the play in the linebacker corps, but most likely to also serve as a safety net in case Vilma ended up being suspended.
Hawthorne started 41 games for the Seahawks and finished with more than 100 tackles each of the last three seasons. He joined the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent out of TCU in 2008.
Lofton, meanwhile, has started every game in four years except for one his rookie season. While mostly a two-down player that year, he became an every-down player for the Falcons. He led the team in tackles in 2011 with 147.
Last night's Hall of Fame preseason game did little to make one think the Saints aren't ready for life without Vilma either. Lofton and Hawthorne both looked good in their brief appearances against the Arizona Cardinals, with Lofton registering three tackles and Hawthorne adding two himself.
While a few tackles in a preseason game don't mean much, the fact is that both have been around for the full installation of new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's defensive scheme.
Vilma, meanwhile, has missed all of the install periods this offseason and is missing invaluable time during training camp while he waits for his legal process to play out.
If he were to have his suspension reduced and was allowed to re-join the Saints halfway through the season, it's hard to see him having much of an impact in 2012. If Lofton and Hawthorne play well, Vilma may find that his fight to get back on the playing field has actually earned him the right to sit on the bench.