The New Orleans Saints met with former Seattle Seahawk middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu today, who has not played in the NFL since before the 2011 season after being released by the Seahawks after the conclusion of the lockout.
Tatupu’s visit with the team could be an ominous sign as the Saints may be looking to part ways with current starting middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who missed five games least season with a knee injury.
Vilma’s will turn 30 in April, and the injury really slowed the normally super productive linebacker as he finished with the second lowest tackle total of his career (54).
While Vilma was sidelined the Saints moved outside linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar to the middle. He played well — leading to speculation New Orleans may plug him in permanently — but Dunbar is scheduled to become a free agent this year.
Tatupu and Vilma are eerily similar players — same position, same height and weight, and each a three-time pro bowler — but that doesn’t mean the Saints view Tatupu as Vilma’s replacement.
The Saints could want to use Tatupu at outside linebacker, after all new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is need of play makers across the board at every linebacker position.
Tatupu could add valuable depth at middle linebacker too, especially if the team is unable to return Dunbar to the team in free agency, and considering the depth behind Vilma consists of Ramon Humber — a yet unproven commodity.
But reading into the visit a little more it could be the Saints view Tatupu as a cheaper plug-in-play replacement for Vilma, who is set to make a $5.6 million dollar base salary in 2012 — third highest on the team — and ninth highest of all linebackers in the NFL.
New Orleans front office is still trying to figure out the best way to come up with the money to re-sign Drew Brees, all while attempting to get new contracts in place with Carl Nicks and Marques Colston — two marquee players that will command top dollar.
The quickest way for them accomplish this feat is to cut more expensive veterans in favor of cheaper, and perhaps younger, talent. Vilma’s is not the only one in danger, right defensive end Will Smith with his $7 million dollar salary base could also be shown the door.
But one can only speculate as to what the Saints will do — with Vilma — and every other high priced veteran on the roster. However should Tatupu sign, then fans have likely already seen Vilma play his last down as a member of the New Orleans Saints.