The Saints have one true pressing need -- safety -- and precious few dollars remaining under the cap. But before addressing that, they had to focus on their top priority, re-signing middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma before another team got to him first and left the Saints with two true pressing needs. Adam Schefter reports that the Saints have indeed re-signed Vilma. It's a five-year deal worth $34 million with $17 million guaranteed.
Keeping Vilma, who quietly had a very good season in '08, has been the team's focus since the season ended. Trouble is, they couldn't work out a deal until the beginning of free agency. The deal the Saints swung with the Jets for Vilma last offseason called for a second-round pick to go to New York if Vilma played 80 percent of defensive snaps and re-signed with the team before free agency. That pick, however, was tied up in the trade that brought Jeremy Shockey to New Orleans, so signing Vilma early would have resulted in the Jets getting the second-rounder and the Giants getting the Saints' 14th-overall pick.
So, essentially, while the Saints clearly wanted Vilma to stay and while Vilma promised the Saints priority in free agency, the door was still left open for him to sign someplace else if another team stepped in and wowed him with an offer. It was reported that the Bucs were interested, but that would have required Vilma to move to weakside linebacker, and he's stated his only desire is to play middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense.
The deal isn't ridiculously pricey, though it calls for $23 million in the deal's first three years. Vilma's still young at 26, and if he can stay healthy, the contract is a bargain for a three-down linebacker who played every defensive snap in 2008, wears the headset in his helmet, and is a leader in the locker room.
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