Mickey Loomis says that middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma is “still
a big part of our team,” but the Saints’ latest signing would suggest that the GM is blowing smoke.
The Saints signed free agent middle linebacker Curtis Lofton to a five-year deal on Saturday night and while the financial terms have yet to be released, chances are the former Falcon is being paid like a starter. (After all, he was the defensive captain for the past four years in Atlanta.)
My point is that the Saints didn’t sign him as an insurance policy for Vilma, or for emergency starts. Some have suggested that new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo could use Lofton on the outside, but that’s a dangerous proposition for the Saints. L0fton is a solid two-down “thumper” in the middle of a 4-3 and that’s where he needs to play in order to be successful. Granted, he has improved his coverage skills since his rookie year in ‘08, but pass defense will never be one of his strengths. Thus, to expect him to hang with tight ends and running backs as a strong-side ‘backer isn’t a realistic option. (To strengthen my point, let me point out that the Falcons have been re-signing their own players left and right this offseason and yet decided to let Lofton walk. That’s because they plan to play more nickel under new DC Mike Nolan and thus, Lofton wasn’t worth the money to essentially be a two-down run-stuffer.)
Which leads me back to Vilma. Despite what Loomis says, there’s still a very good chance that Vilma has played his final down in New Orleans. The Saints will probably wait until they know the severity of his punishment for his involvement in the team’s “bounty program” before they do anything. But I doubt we’ll see Vilma and Lofton lining up in the same linebacker corps next season.
If Vilma is suspended for half the season, the Saints could try to trade him for a late round pick. I doubt another team would bite with Lofton already on the roster, but it’s worth it for the Saints to try and see. And if he’s only suspended four games, Vilma’s trade value obviously goes up, so there’s no reason to release him now.
But either way, Lofton is the team’s long-term answer at middle linebacker. Don’t let the Saints fool you into thinking otherwise.