Tuesday, 14 June 2011 18:02

New Orleans Saints: Vilma, NFL Lockout Sleepover; Belichick

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The NFL sent a memo to all 32 teams on Monday night warning them to be prepared to stay overnight for league meetings next week in Chicago.

Before a new labor deal can be finalized, 24 of 32 owners must approve the terms of the agreement. Despite the many communication tools of the modern era, the owners will get in a room, hash it out, and take a vote.

 The NFL is applying pressure to get a deal done this week to avoid losing money and games.

The general feeling is that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement could be reached by July 1 with free agency possibly beginning just after Independence Day.

Adam Schefter of ESPN sees two possible explanations: First, the owners are in a mood for a sleepover. Second, they possibly will be voting on the terms of the CBA.

Even if a deal remains days or weeks away as of next Tuesday, the owners could choose to pre-approve the final terms offered by the negotiating team, eliminating the need for a vote once an agreement in principle is reached between the folks hashing out the details.

All of this could lay the foundation for potentially good news.

 Jonathan Vilma

Jonathan Vilma must help the Saints defense improve this season if they are going to make a run at the Super Bowl.

Some NFL scouts consider him an overrated player despite his competitiveness and leadership skills.

NFL draft expert and WWL Radio sportscaster Mike Detillier believes the deal the Saints made to get middle linebacker Vilma from the Jets was the best trade the Saints ever made.

In 2008, the Saints sent a fourth-round choice and a third-round pick in 2009 to the Jets in exchange for Vilma and the Jets' fourth-round choice (linebacker Stanley Arnoux). Over the last three seasons, Vilma led the team in tackles with 391.

"Outside of this locker room, Jon is still underrated as a football player and as a leader, but when you walk into the locker room he has everybody's respect," said Saints cornerback Jabari Greer. "He is one of the best middle linebackers in pro football and    yet you still hear fans, still read articles and hear things said on radio and television that are critical of him because of his lack of size (6-1, 230).

"Yet when you talk to other players in this league they know he is one of the very best. Always being criticized about being too small, more importantly, he has brought leadership, intelligence and defensive instincts that the Saints have not had at middle linebacker since Sam Mills played in 1986-1994.

The Saints' run defense and pass coverage were below average last season, and the ability to rush the quarterback was terrible. The defense did not create turnovers on par with the pace of the 2009 Super Bowl season. But they need to create more than nine interceptions they had last year, and I expect they will. The offense also put the defense in several difficult predicaments last season.

Is Vilma to blame for all this below-average defensive play? Of course not.

As 4-3 linebackers go, Vilma is undersized and has never excelled taking on larger blockers in the run game. He needs to be protected and then can use his excellent vision, anticipation skills, knowledge  of the game and speed to get to the ball carrier. The Saints didn't protect Vilma well enough in 2010.

One NFL scout said Vilma was not much of a force against the pass last season. His coverage skills were just average and he was too often beaten.

Vilma is 29 this season and still on the upside of a Pro Bowl career. He'll be around for several more seasons.


Sean Payton follows Patriots coach Bill Belichick's philosophy for keeping a Super Bowl team together.

He knows that sustaining success in today's NFL requires more than just devising offense and defensive wrinkles. When you win a Super Bowl, everyone in the organization thinks they're a bigger reason than they are for w you winning. Belichick quietly puts incentives into the contracts of players you want to keep and don't redo any contract until the last season of the deal. Figure who you can do without.

Rookie Martz Wilson could add a good tool for creative defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.  Wilson has an excellent skill set. He could become a dynamic pass rusher and blitzer.

I expect the Saints' defense to improve drastically this season. Rookie Johnny Patrick has the look of an instant contributor to an already deep secondary and should be a nice insurance policy if some coverage men fall to injury or Patrick Robinson doesn't step up his game.

Cameron, Jordan, in addition to keeping blockers off Vilma with Shaun Rogers, could be poised for a Defensive Rookie of the Year type of season. He should immediately grab the starting densive job opposite of Will Smith.

While some outside of our area may not fully appreciate what Vilma has brought to the Saints, players across the NFL feel he is among the elite players. Just last week he was voted one of the top 40 players in the league.

The deal to draft him ranks as the best trade ever for defensive players with the Saints.

ESPN's Adam Schefter says in his Insider post there's no reason the Saints can't be a Super Bowl favorite. Schefter makes it clear that part of the equation entails rookies Cameron Jordan, Mark Ingram and Martez Wilson being productive right off the bat. No argument here. If those guys are what everyone seems to think, they should fill some holes the Saints had last season. Schefter also cites that the Saints could face strong competition in the NFC South from the Falcons and Buccaneers and sings the praises of the draft classes

by Ed Staton

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Ed Staton

Ed Staton is a former sports writer for the Times Picayune and New Orleans States Item.  He also served as the New Orleans Saints Information Director.  He has won 43 media awards in writing, design and photography.  


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