After nine seasons in the NFL, Jonathan Vilma is no longer one of the best inside linebackers in the league. Still, despite the shift to a 3-4 defense and his salary for the 2013 season, the New Orleans Saints are going to try and keep the player with them.
Vilma played in 11 games last season for the Saints, making more news with his ongoing legal battles against Roger Goodell than what he did on the field. He finished with 1 sack and one interception, returning it for a touchdown. In short, the Saints missed the playoffs while posting some of the worst defensive numbers in NFL history.
A year passes, and things are getting back to normal. Sean Payton is back, which might be the most important thing, bringing a new, popular-with-the-players defensive coordinator with him, Rob Ryan. Ryan, who was a DC for the Raiders, Browns and Cowboys, teams who have never made the playoffs during Ryan’s tenures, is bringing the 3-4 defense with him, something Vilma experiences with the Jets and didn’t really fit in to that style.
Still, Payton feels Vilma has plenty to contribute in more than just leadership by making the right kind of tweaks in their defensive schemes.
I think the way that we’re going to run this defense and the type of 3-4 that we’re running will be such that you saw in Dallas or Houston. There will be some under defensive principles to it. Some reduction, which means that the left guard or weak guard for the offense will be covered at times, and I think that will help a guy like Jon Vilma as opposed to the traditional two-gap 34 front that many Giants fans knew back when Bill Parcells was there. I do think there’s some work to be done obviously when you make a change like this.
The bigger problem with Vilma isn’t his suitability to the defense, but his salary for 2013. Vilma is owed $4.8 million in base salary for 2013, and the Saints will take a cap hit of $8.6 million. The Saints are projected to be around $20 million over the cap, which means that unless they renegotiate a contract with the 3-time Pro Bowler, they might be forced to cut him.