Is This The Swan Song For Vilma, Smith And Harper?
By Greg Barber
We are a couple weeks away from training camp, and three longtime veterans who were key players for the Saints during the team's Super Bowl championship season may be playing their final year in the Black and Gold.
All three are well respected by the fans and they have been a major part of the community in New Orleans. The three players being alluded to are LB Jonathan Vilma, DE/LB Will Smith and Safety Roman Harper, which is probably not much of a surprise to most Saints fans.
Vilma is going into his 10th season in the league and he had been the undisputed leader and play caller of the defense until last season. A knee injury that landed him on the PUP list as well as the infamous bounty scandal shifted control of the defense to LB Curtis Lofton.
This also forced Vilma to play weak side linebacker, at which he was average, but you could tell that he was not quite as comfortable playing that position. Vilma is healthy heading into this season, but there are signs that this may be his final year in New Orleans. He took a huge pay cut during the offseason in the final year of his contract, plus there are several young linebackers developing and just waiting to serve as his replacement.
Will Smith is also going into his 10th season, all of which have been with the Saints. Smith has been up-and-down throughout his career, only recording two double-digit sack seasons during his career thus far. Now he is being moved to the outside linebacker position, which may be a questionable move on paper.
Stopping the run and rushing the passer should be two areas that Smith will be able to execute at linebacker. However, Smith in pass coverage could be an absolute nightmare, which means the opposing offense will expose him like a Playboy model when he is on the field. When all is said and done, Smith will be playing with his hand in the dirt and rushing the passer more often than standing up.
Like Vilma, Smith restructured his contract during the offseason and has two seasons remaining on his current deal. According to overthecap.com, Smith’s cap number in 2013 is $8.5 million, so if they cut him this year, the Saints will have $6.7 million in dead money. In 2014, Smith’s cap number is a mere $13.9 million, but if they choose to cut him then he would only count for $2.3 million in dead money. Therefore, the Saints will save $11.5 million next season. Can you hear the fat lady warming up her vocals?
Roman Harper has been with Saints since 2006 and is a two-time Pro Bowler who played as big a role in New Orleans' Super Bowl run as Smith and Vilma. Harper is often maligned because of his pass coverage skills. Realistically, he is sort of a tweener because he should probably be a linebacker but is not even close to being big enough to man that position. He is fantastic at stopping the run and sacking the quarterback, making him a good fit in Rob Ryan's defense. But with the Saints drafting Kenny Vaccaro, who can play both safety positions, it makes him a strong candidate to be shown the door after this season. Harper's only saving grace will be that it will be cheaper for the team to keep him in 2014 and cut him in 2015. If Harper is cut in 2014, it leaves the team with $3.7 million in dead money compared to waiting until 2015, which would leave only $970,000 in dead money on the books.
The 2013 season is going to be wild and crazy and the 2014 offseason will be downright interesting as well. But for this season, all we can do is sit back and enjoy what could be the last season in the Black and Gold for three great players and even better men. Whether they remain in New Orleans or depart for other teams next season, there are no ill feelings toward any of these players because they have all truly done the team and the city of New Orleans proud.