New Orleans Saints: Jonathan Vilma

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.
The New Orleans Saints' team website posted a short-but-sweet video tribute to the fantastic foursome of defensive players they let go on Wednesday: Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer. Check it out here.

Together, that group made an awful lot of plays in a combined 29 years with the team. By my count, they racked up a total of 94 sacks, 29 interceptions and 42 forced fumbles, including the playoffs.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints will be just fine. In fact, their defense is arguably in a better place now than it has ever been in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era, with new young leaders emerging during an excellent 2013 season.

However, it seems impossible -- almost disrespectful, in fact -- to suggest such a thing after the Saints released four of the greatest defensive players in franchise history Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeCameron Jordan
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesThe Saints have already relied on young players like Cameron Jordan to step in to play.
The greatest chapters in Saints history couldn't be written without Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer. And to some degree, I feel like all four of them were underrated -- especially in recent years -- as supporting actors alongside New Orleans' high-powered offense.

All four of them will almost certainly wind up in the Saints Hall of Fame -- and at least some of them in the newly-formed Ring of Honor. And I could make a strong case that the Saints don't win a Super Bowl without each of them, who were in their absolute primes during that unforgettable 2009 season.

Plus, on a personal note, they've been great guys to work with. I've covered the Saints since 2005 (Smith was the only player left who outdated me). And these were all "go-to" guys in the locker room who gave honest insight into the team -- not to mention passionate rants about their alma maters (or jazz music, in Greer's case). As I'm sure everyone inside the organization would attest, the locker room will feel emptier without them inside.

So I don't want to dismiss any of these moves quickly or quietly. But I guess that's the cold, harsh reality of the NFL's short life span. The Saints now have just nine players left from that Super Bowl roster, and they may wind up parting ways with even more of them in the coming weeks.

These moves are always tough -- but they're usually the right moves. Look at the Saints' recent history. It was also tough for them to let go of former Pro Bowlers and leaders like Deuce McAllister, Jon Stinchcomb, Carl Nicks, Jermon Bushrod, Jonathan Goodwin, Scott Fujita, Tracy Porter and Darren Sharper. But few of those moves ever came back to bite them.

And that will probably be the case again this time.

All four veterans played limited roles last year (Smith missed the entire year with a knee injury, Vilma played in only one game, Greer suffered a season-ending knee injury in November, and Harper played a backup role while missing half the season with a knee injury).

Of the four, I think Greer will be the hardest to replace. He was the only one of the group that was an every-down starter last year, and he was playing very well for the first 10 weeks last season before he suffered the major knee injury. Then after he left, young backup Corey White suffered through some growing pains as his replacement.

But it's not like the Saints had much of a choice. Even if they kept Greer, his injury might have limited him into the summer and beyond.

The bright side for the Saints is that they were actually able to rebuild their defense while the old leaders were still in the building -- something that's hard for most teams to pull off.

The Saints are now led by younger versions of all these guys -- defensive end Cameron Jordan, cornerback Keenan Lewis, safety Kenny Vaccaro and linebackers Junior Galette and Curtis Lofton.

Jordan was a Pro Bowler last year. Lewis should have been a Pro Bowler. ESPN Scouting Insider Matt Williamson recently suggested that Vaccaro could wind up being an eight- to 10-time Pro Bowler. Galette had 12 sacks. And Lofton, a captain and signal-caller, has racked up 248 tackles over the past two years.

Young linemen Akiem Hicks and John Jenkins could soon emerge as standout players, as well. And they all appear to be in great hands under the direction of new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

Last year, the Saints made an astounding turnaround from 32nd to fourth in the NFL in yards allowed. They were also fourth in points allowed and second in pass defense.

So while Wednesday's moves were a bit ground-shaking, they weren't earth-shattering -- at least in a pure football sense.

As for what the future holds for Smith, Vilma, Harper and Greer, it's tough to say.

I think Smith, 32, and Harper, 31, have the best chance of catching on with another team right away. Smith missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but it came in the summer, so he's had ample time to recover. And while his pass rushing production had started to dip in recent years, I always thought he was underrated as a power pass-rusher and standout run defender. I could still see him in a rotational role with a defense that could use that physical presence and veteran leadership.

Harper, too, will have to find the right fit. He's always been better as a blitzer and run defender than in deep pass coverage. But he played well in spurts when healthy last year -- especially in the season-ending playoff loss at Seattle.

Vilma and Greer will probably need to prove they can get back closer to 100 percent health for a team to bring them in. Vilma has said he still wants to play, but he's been battling a nagging knee injury for the last three years now.

All of them could bring that combination of championship experience and veteran leadership that many young locker rooms crave, however -- a combination that will be missed in New Orleans.
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma joined ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike on Tuesday morning to expand on his thoughts about whether an openly gay player, such as Michael Sam, will be widely accepted in the NFL. Vilma echoed many of his thoughts from Monday night on CNN, in which he explained that it’s difficult to predict how every player in the league will react since it’s never happened before.

You canlisten to the Mike & Mike interview here .
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma appeared on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 on Monday night to try and clarify recent comments he made about doubting if an openly gay NFL player would be widely accepted in the NFL.

Vilma's first comments appeared earlier this month on a NFL Network special about locker room culture, in which he said, "I think that he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted. I don't want people to just naturally assume, like, 'Oh, we're all homophobic.' That's really not the case. ... Imagine if he's the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?"

Vilma's comments were widely circulated Monday after Missouri defensive end Michael Sam said that he is gay, which will likely make Sam the first openly gay player in the NFL once he is drafted in May.

Vilma
So Vilma said on Twitter that he was appearing on the CNN program because, “I definitely need to clear the air.”

During the CNN interview, Vilma apologized for his shower example and described it as a “poor choice” and a “poor illustration.”

“There is no concern. The point I was trying to make or the context I was trying to take it in is that I've never been put in that situation. No player in the NFL has been put in that situation. So it's not as simple as anyone saying, ‘Well, there's nothing wrong with it,'” Vilma said. “I don't see anything wrong with it. You have other players that may, you have other players that may not. I don't know, and the players don't know because this is the first time that you have a Michael Sam, who will by all accounts be drafted, openly gay, come into a locker room. No one in the NFL for the past however many years has experienced this before, so this is all new to everybody. This is new territory.”

Earlier in the interview, Vilma made a similar point: “I was trying to explain that whenever you present someone like a Michael Sam, who is extremely, extremely confident and a powerful man in himself within his own rights, into an NFL culture that's used to one thing, there's going to naturally be that first level, first wave of resistance before you have the transition.”

When asked what specifically will lead to resistance, Vilma said, “Because you have many different dynamics within the locker room. You have people that can be more outgoing, more open-minded. You have people that are a little more close-minded. Some people grew up with or without the acceptance of gays within their families. You have a lot of different elements within the locker room that you just don't see right now. Me being on the inside for 10 years, inside the locker room, I've been around that.

“And it's not to say that the locker rooms are bad. It's to say that there are going to be people that accept it willingly as soon as he comes in, welcome him with open arms. And then unfortunately, there will be some -- I'm about 99 percent sure the minority -- will say, well, they're not comfortable with that yet, they don't know how to respond to that. That's just what's going to happen in the first whatever, the first year, two years. (When) you have more players like Michael Sam coming out and saying that they're gay, the transition will be a lot smoother.”

Vilma was later asked in the interview if he really thinks he has never showered with a gay teammate before.

“That's the funny thing about it, I looked back on my transcript when I was interviewed by Andrea Kremer. And she said that,” Vilma said of a portion of the NFL Network interview that didn't air. “She said, ‘You really don't think anyone's gay?' And I said, ‘Of course, odds are that you have 2 percent, 5 percent of the locker room is gay.' And she said, ‘Do you think they're looking at you?' I was like, ‘I'm not that good looking, so I don't think they're looking at me, and that's neither here nor there.' So I'm well aware that the stats say that. But the facts are that no player before Michael Sam has come out before getting drafted or during his career in the NFL and openly said, ‘I am gay.' And I'm sticking strictly to that context.”

Vilma later added, “As I told Andrea Kremer in that interview, as long as he can play football, I am A-OK with it. It doesn't bother me at all.”

Vilma also said that he doesn't think the culture in the locker room would be difficult for a guy like Sam, because, “You can tell (Sam) is extremely comfortable, extremely confident in himself, he's a very good football player. So there is nothing for him to be worried about. He's going to step in and he's going to play football and he's going to be a football player. That's exactly what he is. For other guys, who may not be as strong-minded, strong-willed as a Michael Sam, they may be a little timid, and then there may be times they don't know how to react or assert themselves or whatever the situation is.”

When asked what he would say to his teammates if the Saints drafted Sam, Vilma (who is scheduled to be a free agent next month), said, “There's really nothing to say. The first thing that matters is, ‘Can he play football?' ... For me as a captain, it's really about holding everybody accountable to the level that we set.”
METAIRIE, La. -- In one sense, the New Orleans Saints have been through this already in recent years -- needing to trim more than $20 million from their salary cap by the start of the league year March 11. However, this next month will likely be the most emotionally challenging yet in the era of general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton.

It’s entirely possible the Saints could part ways with up to nine of the 13 players remaining from their Super Bowl roster.

Four are unrestricted free agents (safety Malcolm Jenkins, linebacker Jonathan Vilma, offensive tackle Zach Strief and receiver Robert Meachem). Five others could become salary-cap casualties (defensive end Will Smith, cornerback Jabari Greer, safety Roman Harper, receiver Lance Moore and running back Pierre Thomas).

[+] EnlargeWill Smith
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsWill Smith has been a Saint for 10 years. An 11th season in New Orleans will be possible only if he takes a pay cut.
The four Super Bowl vets who are most likely to stay on the roster are quarterback Drew Brees, guard Jahri Evans, receiver Marques Colston and punter Thomas Morstead.

It’s not exactly the end of an era. The Saints are still bona fide Super Bowl contenders, led by Payton and Brees, and have done a great job of continually reshaping a talented roster. But it’s awfully close.

Payton made a point to emphasize some of the tough decisions that are looming when he was asked about the pending contract negotiations with free-agent tight end Jimmy Graham on Fox Sports 1 last week.

"The most challenging part of your job as a coach, and I share that with Mickey or anyone that has been with an organization as long as we have been, going on Year 9, is some of the tough decisions that have to be made with regards to your cap with the ability that you possibly can sign Jimmy Graham," Payton said. "It's very easy to say, 'You are certainly going to get this done.' But you have to understand there is a budget here. That's the challenging part.

"You are going to read these names that have already come across the ticker from Atlanta last week [the release of cornerback Asante Samuel and linebacker Stephen Nicholas], and we will be no different."

The Saints are currently projected to be around $13 million to $15 million over the salary cap. If they use the franchise tag on Graham, as expected, they’ll need to carve out about $6.5 million more (a figure that will vault closer to $11 million if Graham is later deemed to be a receiver instead of a tight end). Plus, the Saints will want to clear even more space off the books to sign other free agents and send out restricted-free-agent tenders.

Loomis and the Saints’ front office have proved capable of handling similar circumstances in recent years while remaining fairly aggressive in adding free agents from other teams.

In the process, the Saints have had to let some core players go, such as guard Carl Nicks and offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod. They’ve also restructured several contracts and agreed to pay cuts with some longtime veterans. We’ll certainly see a combination of all three again this offseason.

Smith and Harper are the most obvious cap-casualty candidates. Smith, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, is due to receive $11.55 million in salary and bonuses, and Harper is due $3.15 million. Both players could conceivably come back -- but only if they agree to drastic pay cuts, probably closer to $1 million.

I hate to add Greer’s name to that list, since I think he’s been possibly the Saints’ most underrated core player since 2009. But Greer is due $4.5 million and is rehabbing from a major knee injury suffered in November. So chances are he’ll have to agree to a pay cut to stay in New Orleans.

The next wave of possibilities includes Moore ($3.8 million), Thomas ($2.9 million) and defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley ($4.5 million). Moore and Thomas have been in that same category with Greer over the years -- underrated core players and fan favorites. Thomas, in particular, may have just had his best season to date in 2013. However, all three veterans in this group play part-time roles now, which doesn’t match their lofty salaries.

Then there are the free agents. Again, it’s possible the Saints could bring back longtime starters like Strief and Jenkins -- but only if the price tag is extremely palatable. If any other team wants to outbid the Saints for their services, they probably will let them go. Strief, in particular, could be in high demand elsewhere after one of his strongest seasons. Meachem and Vilma could be back at veteran minimum salaries, but the Saints need to add youth at both positions.

Here’s the full list of Saints scheduled to become free agents next month:

Unrestricted free agent starters: TE Jimmy Graham, RT Zach Strief, C Brian de la Puente, S Malcolm Jenkins, OLB Parys Haralson, K Shayne Graham

Unrestricted free-agent reserves: WR Robert Meachem, OT Charles Brown, QB Luke McCown, LB Jonathan Vilma, LB Will Herring, LB Ramon Humber, LB Keyunta Dawson, DE Kenyon Coleman, S Jordan Pugh

Restricted free agents: FB Jed Collins, WR Joe Morgan, S Rafael Bush, DL Tom Johnson
A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2014 offseason -- ranked from 1-12 in order of the team's need for upgrades or replacements.

Current depth chart:

Lofton
Curtis Lofton. Age 27, signed through 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $3.2 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $5.2 million.

David Hawthorne. Age 28, signed through 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $2 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $3.51 million.

Parys Haralson. Age 30, unrestricted free agent.

Jonathan Vilma. Age 31, unrestricted free agent.

Ramon Humber. Age 26, unrestricted free agent.

Will Herring. Age 30, unrestricted free agent.

Kevin Reddick. Age 24, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $495,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $496,666.

Analysis:

As I wrote earlier, I broke down the Saints' front seven into three categories (interior linemen, edge rushers and linebackers) since they run a hybrid between a 4-3 and a 3-4. So this is essentially the group of true linebackers who play in space, rather than the pass-rushing linebackers such as Junior Galette.

This may not seem like one of the Saints' most glaring needs since Lofton and Hawthorne played so well this past season. But look how thin the list gets behind those two veterans. I think it would be especially helpful for the Saints to look at this group in the draft since they need to inject youth and athleticism -- someone who could rotate into the mix right away and develop into a future starter.

Just imagine how much more potent this defense would be with an outside linebacker like Tampa Bay's Lavonte David or Carolina's Thomas Davis roaming the flats. And I ranked this list even before Seattle outside linebacker Malcolm Smith was named Super Bowl MVP, but it seems especially fitting now.

As for the guys who are under contract, I think the Saints are set with their two starting inside linebackers, Lofton and Hawthorne. Lofton played especially well down the stretch this past season, and he has been a great addition as an every-down middle linebacker, captain and leader of the defense. What a smooth transition he has made since arriving as a free agent in 2012. Hawthorne, on the other hand, struggled when he first arrived in 2012, mostly because of injuries. But he bounced back this past year and played at a high level. Hawthorne's contract could become an issue in 2015, but for now he comes at a good rate.

Reddick will also be back, and I could see him playing a more prominent role after he earned playing time as an undrafted rookie in 2013. He played a lot on special teams and joined the defense in jumbo packages. He could have a future as an inside linebacker if he continues to deliver on his potential.

The two biggest question marks among the unrestricted free agents are Vilma and Haralson. I know the popular opinion is that Vilma will be gone after he missed almost all of last season with a knee injury, and he'll be 32 in the spring. However, if he wants to try and play this summer, the Saints would be the team most likely to give him that opportunity since he's been such a valued member of the organization. Haralson is also coming off of a season-ending pectoral injury, but I could also see him back at a minimal contract after he seemed like such a good veteran fit in a part-time role last year.

Humber and Herring are two of the Saints' most valued special teamers, so they could both be back. Humber showed promise as a backup middle linebacker in the summer, as well, so his versatility is valuable.

Payton: Vilma 'one of the all-timers'

November, 7, 2013
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METARIE, La. -- Coach Sean Payton on Thursday raved about linebacker Jonathan Vilma and what he has meant to the New Orleans Saints' organization both on and off the field, while also explaining why the team made the tough decision to place Vilma on season-ending injured reserve.

Payton said Vilma, 31, didn’t suffer any setbacks while playing 12 snaps last Sunday against the New York Jets. But the coach said it became evident that Vilma wasn’t far enough along in his recovery from a summer knee surgery to make the necessary impact on the rest of the season.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Vilma
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsCoach Sean Payton says Jonathan Vilma had the same kind of impact on the Saints' defense that Drew Brees has had on the offense.
“That being said, the process that allowed him to go to IR, our decision to do that and then to kind of see if he could get better quick enough to play, I don’t regret. Especially with a player like Jon Vilma,” Payton said -- later adding, “Bring me as many Jon Vilmas as you can.”

Here’s more from Payton on Vilma:

On the decision: “The feeling on both of our parts was that what he’s used to and accustomed to playing, at a certain speed and a certain level and certainly what we’ve seen, still wasn’t there. But he’s progressing. ... It was more of just an overall knowing we’ve got eight weeks left in the season, and is he going to be able to progress enough to where he’s comfortable and we’re comfortable enough with his progress? ... But make no mistake about it -- this was something I’m sure was difficult for him to hear. There are some players that you almost have to pull off the field.”

On Vilma’s future prospects: “I know this -- I know he has made no long-term decisions. ... It is progressing. It is getting better, and that’s encouraging. That’s why I know for certain that there’s no finality or any decisions being made today. There doesn’t need to be.”

On Vilma’s approach to his rehab: “No. 1, I know he was real pleased with the surgery and the way it went. We were as well. I was encouraged with his recovery. He’s going to work (tirelessly) in anything he does. He’s so meticulous in preparation. So the same that you see in regards to a player that studies football was the same approach he took to rehabbing his knee.”

On what Vilma has meant to the Saints since he arrived in 2008: “He has been one of the all-timers as a coach, now, as far as a standup guy, a guy that prepares and a guy that takes everything he has done in the film room and brings it to the field. I’ve said this before. He has been what Drew (Brees) has been to our offense to our defense. You’re always going to go the extra mile with a player like that.”

Saints’ Week 9 snap counts

November, 4, 2013
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The most noteworthy tweak in the New Orleans Saints' Week 9 participation report was how much time they spent in seven-man fronts -- using more linebackers and fewer defensive backs. They used those sets to try to combat the New York Jets' heavy-run sets. Obviously the approach didn't work well enough, since running back Chris Ivory burned them for runs of 52, 30 and 27 yards in a 26-20 Jets victory. However, as I wrote in my Upon Further Review column, the Saints weren’t exactly being grounded and pounded all day. Ivory gained only 30 yards on his other 15 carries.

Here's a look at all of the Saints’ snap counts from Sunday:

OFFENSE (74 snaps)

Quarterback: Drew Brees 74
Tight end: Jimmy Graham 56, Benjamin Watson 42, Josh Hill 29
Receiver: Nick Toon 51, Kenny Stills 40, Lance Moore 31, Robert Meachem 30
Running back: Pierre Thomas 55, Mark Ingram 15, Travaris Cadet 3, Darren Sproles 2
Fullback: Jed Collins 16
Offensive tackle: Charles Brown 74, Zach Strief 74
Guard: Jahri Evans 74, Ben Grubbs 74
Center: Brian de la Puente 74

Thoughts: So much for Graham being limited by his foot injury. He went from 18 snaps in Week 8 to 56 in Week 9. His workload was increased by the fact that the Saints went so pass-heavy in the second half while trying to play catch-up. … I’m surprised to see Toon with so many snaps among the receivers, especially after he struggled with two costly dropped passes in the first half. The Saints must have wanted his physical presence on the field with veteran Marques Colston out of the lineup. Not sure why Moore didn’t play more snaps. He appeared to be healthy throughout the game, but it’s possible they’re still easing him back from the hand injury that kept him out for several weeks.

DEFENSE (61 snaps)

Defensive end: Cameron Jordan 58, Akiem Hicks 52, Tom Johnson 11, Glenn Foster 9, Keyunta Dawson 2
Nose tackle: Brodrick Bunkley 35, John Jenkins 23
Outside linebacker: Junior Galette 59, Parys Haralson 32
Inside linebacker: David Hawthorne 61, Curtis Lofton 59, Jonathan Vilma 12, Ramon Humber 1
Safety: Kenny Vaccaro 57, Rafael Bush 47, Isa Abdul-Quddus 8
Cornerback: Jabari Greer 61, Keenan Lewis 55, Corey White 29

Thoughts: Vilma played 12 snaps in his return from a knee injury -- not a big surprise. … With safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper out with injuries, the Saints went with backup cornerback White as their primary nickelback instead of using their usual package of three safeties.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Receiver Marques Colston, safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper and running back Khiry Robinson are among the New Orleans Saints’ inactives for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets.

Although Colston will be missed, the Saints still have good depth in their passing game, with receivers Lance Moore, Kenny Stills, Robert Meachem and Nick Toon. Plus, tight end Jimmy Graham is expected to play more than the 18 snaps he played last week as he continues to manage the pain of a torn plantar fascia.

The safeties might be missed even more, since veterans Jenkins and Harper are both out. The Saints also cut veteran backup cornerback Chris Carr this week, leaving them with only seven active defensive backs for Sunday’s game. That’s an indication that they might not play as much nickel and dime as they’ve been playing so far this season.

It’s possible the Saints will use more linebackers today against the run-heavy Jets, which could mean some quality playing time for recently activated veteran Jonathan Vilma.

Also, the fact that Robinson is inactive means running back Mark Ingram should get a decent amount of touches today in his return from a lingering toe injury. Ingram will likely remain behind Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles in the pecking order, though.

Also inactive for the Saints on Sunday: defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker, offensive tackle Terron Armstead and quarterback Ryan Griffin.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have released veteran cornerback Chris Carr, according to a tweet from his agent, Buddy Baker. The Saints have not officially announced the move or how they plan to fill the roster vacancy. But it could be an opening for them to activate linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who is now eligible to come off of short-term injured reserve.

Vilma
Vilma, who has been back at practice for two weeks, said he’s been feeling good and feels ready to return as soon as the Saints give him the green light.

“I know I’m feeling good running around, and I think I look good on film. It’s really up to Coach to decide when I can play,” said Vilma, who had an arthroscopic clean-up surgery performed on his knee in the preseason.

Vilma has said he would have been healthy enough to return much sooner. But after the Saints decided to put him on short-term injured reserve, he was required him to sit out for eight weeks.

“Fortunately I was able to take that long, almost like an extended rehab period. It was definitely for the better,” Vilma said. “Back then of course, I wanted to try to rush and get back. But it was definitely for the better that I now am able to come back and able to just go out there and run, run around and get back into football shape, get my angles down and my timing.”

Vilma said he doesn’t have any extra motivation to come back in time to play against the New York Jets in New York for the first time since he was traded from the Jets to the Saints in 2008. He said they already played each other in New Orleans in 2009, and most of his coaches and teammates are no longer there. When asked sarcastically if he’d get “misty eyed” being back in the Jets’ home stadium (which is also new), Vilma said, “Dry tears.”

If Vilma does come back, the Saints would most likely ease him into a rotational role since veteran David Hawthorne has played so well as his replacement. When Vilma was asked if he’s even more excited to rejoin the Saints since their defense was playing so well, he was only half-joking when he responded, “There’s a flip side to that. You don’t want to come in and mess it up.”

Carr, meanwhile, had been playing well for the Saints as a backup corner, including a key pass breakup in the end zone last week against the Buffalo Bills. He appeared in five games for the Saints this season with five tackles, an interception and two pass breakups. The Saints will now lean more heavily on second-year cornerback Corey White as the backup in certain nickel and dime packages.

No decision on Vilma's status

October, 31, 2013
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METAIRIE, La. -- Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is now eligible to return to the New Orleans Saints' active roster. But coach Sean Payton did not indicate Thursday if and when the Saints plan to activate him.

The Saints have until Nov. 11 to decide whether to activate Vilma or place him on season-ending injured reserve.

Vilma
“He’s doing well. He’s getting reps. It’s just a matter of getting back into football-playing shape,” Payton said. “He’s someone who is a quick study, so he knows what we’re doing.”

The Saints have the luxury of bringing Vilma along slowly since veteran David Hawthorne has played so well in his absence. Hawthorne made two more big plays with a forced fumble and a sack last week against the Buffalo Bills.

Although the Saints haven’t discussed their plans for using the two linebackers going forward, it stands to reason that Hawthorne will remain the starter, with Vilma being used in a rotational role.

The Saints themselves probably don’t know exactly what to expect from Vilma when he returns to action. He has been hampered by a knee injury on and off for three seasons now, including the arthroscopic clean-up surgery in the preseason that landed him on short-term injured reserve.

Payton said it was good to have the new short-term I.R. rule (enacted last season) as an option.

“The uncertainty was the procedure, and yet we felt pretty good after the spring,” Payton said. “I think we spent some time on (Vilma’s roster status). But I think we really felt like it was important for our team to see this through.

“The good news is he’s going to work extremely hard at anything he does. I know he worked very hard at the rehab element of coming back and strengthening his leg. That’s a credit to him. I’m glad we were able to do that. I think that’s a good rule change, something teams can benefit from.”

Saints mailbag: Any trades coming?

October, 26, 2013
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Thanks for submitting your questions to me on Twitter this week. I’ll put together a New Orleans Saints mailbag every weekend and occasionally sprinkle some questions into my morning report. So send ‘em my way anytime @MikeTriplett.
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METAIRIE, La. – Even in this new era of remarkable recoveries from torn knee ligaments, it still took players like Adrian Peterson and Robert Griffin III nine months before they returned to game action. So New Orleans Saints linebacker Victor Butler knows the odds are stacked against him returning to the field by the end of the season, in what would be just six months after he tore his ACL in June.

Vilma
Butler
Still, Butler insisted Friday that he’s going to give it his best shot. Butler said he has been running, cutting and working to get himself back in football shape for a few weeks now – “everything but hitting.” And the NFL’s new rules regarding the physically unable to perform list could work in his favor. Beginning this year, players on the PUP list can now wait until Week 12 to begin practicing. Then teams have a three-week window to decide whether to activate players, release them or place them on season-ending injured reserve.

In the meantime, the exuberant fifth-year pro has been enjoying the camaraderie with his teammates and the success of the Saints’ defense as much as possible. Butler, who signed as a free agent from Dallas this offseason, has been a regular presence in the locker room and said he’s proud to be a part of the team even though he can’t be on the field.

Fellow linebacker Jonathan Vilma, meanwhile, is much closer to returning to the Saints’ roster after having a less-serious clean-up surgery on his knee during the preseason. Vilma practiced every day this week after beginning the season on the short-term injured reserve list. And he is eligible to return to the 53-man roster as soon as next week.

The Saints don’t have to rush things with Vilma since his replacement, David Hawthorne, has played well in his absence. But Vilma said he feels like he’ll be ready whenever the Saints are ready to activate him.

“I’m feeling good, holding up well. I’ll tell Sean [Payton], ‘Hey, I had a good week, I’m ready to go.’ And we’ll go from there,” said Vilma, who said he would have been healthy enough to return even sooner if the Saints hadn’t used the short-term I.R. designation, which required him to sit for six weeks.

“But it was great that I didn’t have to rush or push the rehab process along,” Vilma said. “So it’s really been getting a good rest and strengthening.”

Jonathan Vilma optimistic about knee

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
5:15
PM ET
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said he was “pleasantly surprised” about the way his knee felt when he returned to practice for the first time Monday since having arthroscopic surgery during the preseason. Vilma spoke with local media outlets while promoting an upcoming charity event.

Vilma
“I was very optimistic about it,” Vilma said, according to The Times-Picayune. “I thought that I practiced well yesterday. Coaches said I looked good when I was running around.”

Vilma, who was placed on short-term injured reserve in Week 1, will be eligible to return to the active roster next week if the Saints feel he is ready.

Vilma said he has no idea if he’ll be back on the field that quickly or not. He said that will be up to coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis.

“If I feel good, I'll be the first one to let them know I feel good, and we can take it from there,” Vilma said. “It'll really be my knee telling me yes or no after five days of practice, after a week of practice, two weeks before a game. We'll see how I feel there, and if I'm still good to go, great, 100 miles an hour. If not, it is what it is.”

The Saints have the luxury of bringing Vilma along slowly since veteran replacement David Hawthorne has played so well in his absence this year.

Even the Saints themselves probably don’t know what to expect from Vilma, 31, after the knee has plagued him on and off for the past three seasons. But if they like what they see, they’ll probably begin rotating him into the mix with Hawthorne and backup Ramon Humber, who was used often in a new package as a third inside linebacker in Week 6.

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