NFC South: Joe Mays

What's up with Jonathan Vilma?

March, 16, 2012
Since the start of free agency, we’ve seen the New Orleans Saints tied to linebackers Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, Joe Mays and Chris Chamberlain.

That has led to rampant speculation that the team will release veteran middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

But, citing league sources, Mike Triplett reports that the team has no plans to release Vilma. However, it’s obvious that the Saints are planning to do something to shake up their linebacker corps. They’re letting top reserve Jo-Lonn Dunbar test free agency. They still have veteran outside linebacker Scott Shanle, and have high hopes for second-year pro Martez Wilson. And they put a restricted tender on Jonathan Casillas.

The report that the Saints don’t plan to release Vilma brings up several other scenarios. They could be expecting him to serve a suspension, because his name has surfaced with allegations that he was deeply involved in the team’s bounty program.

Even if Vilma isn’t suspended, the team might be looking to simply get deeper at linebacker. Vilma is about to turn 30, and he missed five games with a knee injury last season. The Saints could ask him to take a backup role in the middle, or switch to the outside.

But if Vilma is indeed staying, don’t be surprised if the Saints try to restructure his contract. At the moment, his cap figure is $7.6 million. The Saints have some cap issues, and they could free up $3.68 million by releasing Vilma. If they’re keeping him and bringing in other linebackers, they’ll need to clear at least some of Vilma’s cap space.

Some notes on the Saints

March, 15, 2012
We’ve got a few developments involving the New Orleans Saints.

They reportedly now are showing some interest in Atlanta linebacker Curtis Lofton. The Saints already have expressed interest in Seattle’s David Hawthorne and Denver’s Joe Mays. This is a pretty strong indication the Saints are looking to shake up their linebacker situation. Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma is coming off knee surgery and has a high cap figure. Lofton is younger than Vilma and the Saints are very familiar with him after playing against him the past four seasons.

But I don’t think the Saints are the only NFC South team keeping an eye on Lofton. The Falcons made an offer to him before free agency started and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at least monitoring Lofton’s situation. There also have been reports the Philadelphia Eagles may have interest in Lofton.

In the case of both the Falcons and the Bucs, I think the teams would be more interested in Lofton if his initial asking price drops.

In other news, New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter is expected to make a free-agent visit to the Cincinnati Bengals, according to two league sources.

Porter also reportedly has drawn interest from the St. Louis Rams.

Porter, 25, has been a starter for the Saints most of the past four seasons and it’s likely the team has some interest in retaining him. But the Saints’ tight salary-cap situation may prohibit that.

If Porter leaves, they have starter Jabari Greer and the team believes Patrick Robinson is ready to be a full-time starter. The team also has high hopes for second-year pro Johnny Patrick.

Around the NFC South

March, 15, 2012
The third day of free agency is starting off much more quietly in the NFC South than the first two. Let’s see if it stays that way and let’s kick it off by taking a look at the latest headlines around the division.

It took quite a bit of time, but the New Orleans Saints finally have found a replacement for Curtis Johnson, who left to become the head coach at Tulane. He’ll be replaced by Henry Ellard, who played for the Redskins and Rams and has spent the past three seasons coaching receivers for the Jets.

Jeff Duncan writes that the Saints’ offense won’t get any worse after the loss of guard Carl Nicks and receiver Robert Meachem. I’ll go ahead and agree with that, but I’ll also say I don’t think the offense will get any better. Then again, there’s not a lot of room for improvement.

D. Orlando Ledbetter reports the Falcons still are interested in defensive end Kendall Langford, who has visited with the Bengals. I’m still convinced the Falcons will add a pass-rusher somewhere in free agency. And probably a left tackle, too.

Baltimore free-agent safety Haruki Nakamura will visit the Carolina Panthers. Don’t get too excited. Nakamura has been a career backup and special-teams player.

We already told you linebacker David Hawthorne will be visiting the Saints. But the team also is showing interest in Denver linebacker Joe Mays.