Dec 30, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Jonathan Vilma (51) celebrates with teammates defensive end Will Smith (91) and New defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) after scoring a touchdown on an interception off Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (not pictured) during second quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Will Smith & Jonathan Vilma: They Belong


Defending the Veterans : Vilma & Smith deserve to be a Saint

Rewind.

Roger Goodell announces the suspension of the ‘alleged bounty program’ players, which included Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, coaches Joe Vitt & Sean Payton, and GM Mickey Loomis. Vilma was originally suspended for the entire season. Smith was suspended for four games, but did not have to serve suspension handed down from Roger Goodell through the appeal process. Vilma returned to the Saints much sooner than expected, just in time to play against the Bucs in Week 6.

Obviously no one wants to relive any of these memories, and I don’t have to go into a ton of detail surrounding ‘Bounty Gate’, but we all know what became of the 2012 season for the Saints. After the conclusion of the season, everyone had a certain feeling, whether it was good, bad, or ugly. Most of us were just glad that ‘Bounty Gate’ was finally over, and we got our Coach back.

When March came up, and Free Agency started, the reports came out that the Saints wanted to keep Vilma & Smith, but at lesser deals. The Saints were already in a heap of trouble, as they were well over the salary cap figures. During the first couple of days of Free Agency, we knew we weren’t going to make huge splashes right away, given the numbers. Chase Daniel departed for Kansas City, Jonathan Casillas to Tampa Bay, and Turk McBride & Jermon Bushrod to Chicago. Thus is the casualty of Free Agency in the NFL these days, and having to abide by the Salary Cap.

When the news first came out that the Saints restructured the contracts of Jonathan Vilma & Will Smith, it was met with a varying range of emotion. Some called for them to be released because they were ‘too old’, and we need the ‘new blood’. Others simply had the feeling that ‘they didn’t or could no longer contribute’, especially in a 3-4 defense.

Vilma, who turned 31 in April, moved his base salary down to $1M, saving the Saints roughly $4.8M in cap space. The move gave him an increase in his workout bonus of $100K. He is entering the final year of his contract. Vilma has been a part of the Saints since 2008, and aside from 2011 & 2012, he’s played in every single game for the black and gold. Let’s also not forget to mention his contributions during the Saints Super Bowl run in 2009, where he had a stellar season with 109 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 sacks, and a career high 8 pass defenses.

Will Smith, who will turn 32 in July, took a $6M pay cut, lowering his base salary to $3M, counting $8.5M against the salary cap instead of the nearly $15M it would have been originally. Smith, who is 31, has at least one more season left with the Saints. He is signed through 2014, but he would be due $10.4M next season. His best year as a Saint arguably came in 2009, where he amassed a career high 13 sacks.

Smith has been told he will be starting out as an OLB in Rob Ryan’s scheme, and he has welcomed & embraced change with open arms. He’s been a Saint since 2004, and while his production may have been down in 2012, but he still started in all 16 games. Many are stating that at 6’3” & 282 pounds doesn’t make for a good cover backer, but he’s gladly stated he will do what he must to compete.

All in all, these two moves alone saved the Saints nearly $11M (thank you Mr. Loomis), and gave plenty of wiggle room for the larger scheme of things for the Saints. It helped pave the way for additions of a host of veterans, which included Keenan Lewis, Kenyon Coleman, Jim Leonhard, & Victor Butler on defense.

There’s no question that the Saints defense is trying to get younger, and long gone are the times of the NFL where many players play until their late 30s. We also know that the 3-4 scheme centers heavily on linebacker play, and that we have youthful talent in waiting. Be patient. Be thankful. When it’s that big game, crunch time, or just simply time for a big play, I would gladly have Will Smith or Jonathan Vilma leading our Saints in the huddle, on the sidelines, or in the locker room. Both have showed a ton of humility, the want to play, and the desire to be a team player, which is something a lot of players exhibit when they restructure deals in my opinion, which work for the betterment of the team.

Remember this, finally. Coach Payton has publicly praised the leadership that these two bring to the table. Rob Ryan’s strongly opinionated position is evident. Had any, including Mickey Loomis, not wanted the services of these two, then you would not have seen them back as a Saint. Many analysts continue to dwell on the fact that Jonathan Vilma wasn’t a good fit for the 3-4 defense with the Jets, but that was 2007 people. Give both the benefit of the doubt that they’re healthy, that their football sense is in top shape, and that they know they may not always be starters in 2013, but they will provide much needed depth, leadership, and be great situational players. Both have something left in their tank, and I fully expect them (and you should as well) to show it this upcoming season. We tend to look for instant gratification, but give Vilma & Smith the benefit of your doubts. They belong on this team, and they’ll show it on the field in 2013.

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