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News » Saints waste no time re-signing Vilma 2009-02-28

Saints waste no time re-signing Vilma 2009-02-28

Saints waste no time re-signing Vilma 2009-02-28
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma was a free agent for less than eight hours before he chose to re-sign with the Saints around 6:30 a.m. Friday.

After that, he went to bed in his Miami home and let his agent Mitch Frankel work out the finer points of his new five-year deal with the Saints.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, though NFL.com reported the value at $34 million, with $17 million guaranteed and a total of $23 million during the first three years.

"Well, because it's Free Agency, naturally I'm going to see what other teams are interested in me," said Vilma, who mentioned Tampa Bay as a team that showed significant interest. "But as I said before, I wanted to come back to New Orleans. It wasn't too difficult. We both agreed pretty easily on the numbers we thought were fair. There was nothing anybody felt was unreasonable. We got it done quickly, got it done smoothly, and now we can focus on Football."

Re-signing Vilma was the Saints' top priority in Free Agency. The 26-year-old middle linebacker was outstanding during his first season in New Orleans last year, playing every snap on defense and leading the team with 151 tackles after arriving in a trade from the Jets.

The Saints won't stop there, though, as they attempt to make over a defense that ranked 23rd in yards allowed. They brought free-agent cornerback Ron Bartell in for a visit Friday night, starting with dinner at Emeril's, and they are planning to host free-agent safety Gerald Sensabaugh today. Those are two young playmakers who could help upgrade their embattled secondary.

They also have scheduled a visit Sunday with free-agent offensive tackle Khalif Barnes -- a signal they might not expect to re-sign their own free-agent tackle, Jon Stinchcomb, who's being pursued by Seattle, according to ESPN. Stinchcomb has been the Saints' starting right tackle since 2006.

The Saints will have to make some sacrifices in Free Agency this year. They entered the signing period under more salary cap pressure than they've felt in several years, but the team was confident it would be able to re-sign Vilma and add two or three complementary pieces.

Vilma and Stinchcomb were the only two starters on the Saints' roster who were unrestricted free agents.

"We made re-signing Jonathan (Vilma) our top priority, and this is an important first step as we prepare for the 2009 season," Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement. "Jonathan proved he could come back from (a 2007 knee injury) and play at a high level, and we expect the same or better from him starting this season."

"Jonathan is a true impact player on defense and one of our leaders," Coach Sean Payton said in the statement. "He is consistent, he never comes off the field, and we rely on him to make plays. He proved to be everything we expected when we made the trade for him last year, and having him agree to terms today is a key factor heading into this season."

Vilma, who was voted the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2004, followed by a Pro Bowl appearance the next season, thrives in a 4-3 defensive system, which the Saints feature. Although New Orleans switched defensive coordinators this offseason, Vilma said the addition of Gregg Williams was "definitely a plus" in his decision-making process.

"From everything that I've heard about him, his track record, all the teams he's been associated with, I'm excited to finally have a chance to play under him," said Vilma, who said he plans to meet with Williams for the first time Monday.

Williams, too, has raved about Vilma in the past, describing him as someone who would be "perfect for what we do defensively" and "outstanding in our system."

Vilma said he thinks the Saints are on the verge of great success.

"I've enjoyed my time here," Vilma said. "Now it's easier, I guess, for everyone to understand I felt that way, but I think everyone really did enjoy my time here."

Vilma also credited the Saints and their fan base for sticking by him after he was arrested on charges of resisting arrest and obstruction of justice after a traffic stop in Miami last month. All criminal charges against him were dropped earlier this week.

"That was the biggest relief, I should say, of anything that's happened this offseason, because it was just a very crazy situation," Vilma said. "I was just glad the Saints didn't pass judgment, they didn't believe a word of what they (Miami officials) said happened. And I was just excited the fans didn't pass judgment either before there was a decision."

The Saints' defense should improve greatly this season simply by getting healthier. Top defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant and top cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike McKenzie either were slowed or sidelined by injuries for much of the season.

The Saints, however, also would like to add one or two upgrades that fit Williams' aggressive scheme.

Bartell, 27, is rated by many talent evaluators as one the top cornerbacks available in this year's free-agent class. Though his early years in St. Louis were hampered by inconsistency, Bartell (6 feet 1, 209 pounds) has been a starter for the past two seasons, and he finished last season with a flurry. He had three interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack during the final five weeks.

He has a good combination of speed and size, and he has shown an ability to play well in man-to-man coverage. He has appeared in every game since 2006, with eight interceptions in that span.

Sensabaugh, 25, is a fifth-year veteran who could fill the Saints' most glaring need at free safety, and he had his best season last year under Williams' tutelage in Jacksonville. He had 70 tackles, four interceptions and eight passes defended last season.

Barnes, 26, has started almost every game in his four-year career in Jacksonville, primarily at left tackle. The scouting report on him suggests Barnes (6-5, 325) is more effective as a pass protector than a run blocker, but he has the versatility to play left or right tackle, if needed.

. . . . . . .

Mike Triplett can be reached at mtriplett@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3405.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: February 28, 2009

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