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What's up with Jonathan Vilma?

3/16/2012

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.