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Monday, March 3, 2014
Free-agent spotlight: LB Jonathan Vilma

By Mike Triplett

The New Orleans Saints have 13 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 11, plus the three players they released last month. Here’s a breakdown on linebacker Jonathan Vilma:

Position: ILB

Age: 31

Height: 6-1

Weight: 230

Scouting report: In his prime, Vilma was one of the top defensive players in the NFL, earning Pro Bowl invites in 2005, 2009 and 2010. But he has been plagued by a nagging knee injury for the last three years and appeared in only one game last season. The Saints announced last month that they plan to part ways with him when he becomes a free agent.

A former first-round draft pick and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2004, Vilma arrived in New Orleans via trade in 2008. He immediately took over as the "quarterback" of the Saints' defense as a captain and signal caller at middle linebacker. Coaches have always raved about what a smart player Vilma is -- which was especially on display when he matched audibles with Peyton Manning in the Saints' 2010 Super Bowl victory.

Vilma is a bit on the small side for an inside linebacker, but he always made up for it with great athleticism and instincts when healthy. He had eight sacks, six interceptions and five forced fumbles during six years in New Orleans. For his career, he has 871 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 12 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles.

Projection: Vilma has said he would like to keep playing, and he has had ample time to recover from his latest clean-up surgery last summer. But the combination of his age and his injury history puts his future in jeopardy.

I don't see him as an every-down starter at this stage. But I could see a team bringing Vilma in to vie for a rotational role. His experience and leadership will boost his appeal.

Obviously Vilma was a central figure in the Saints' infamous bounty scandal -- originally being suspended for a year before the suspension was vacated on appeal. But I don’t think that would turn teams off. On the contrary, I think his character would be considered a plus, based on how coaches have always raved about Vilma.