After spending the first seven games of the season on short-term injured reserve with a knee problem, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma on Sunday lined up for 12 plays against the New York Jets and made one tackle.
That’s all the action he’ll see this year, however.
Vilma has been placed on season-ending IR, and cornerback Chris Carr is back on the Saints, the NFL announced Wednesday. As Vilma is in the final season of his contract with New Orleans, the contest against the Jets may be his last game for the Saints — if not his career.
Vilma underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-August prior to landing on IR with a designation to return. The first game he was eligible to play in was at MetLife Stadium vs. the Jets; and on Saturday, Carr was released to make room for Vilma on the active roster.
But now, Carr is back with the team, and Vilma is done.
Coach Sean Payton didn’t give the most optimistic answer about Vilma when he was asked on Wednesday how the linebacker looked against the Jets. The coach said, “Going through the game tape, there were a lot of things that we struggled with. His snap count wasn’t as many as the other guys, so,” and he trailed off.
Vilma has had recurring issues with his knee throughout his career. He was in his fourth year with the Jets, the team that drafted him, when he suffered a knee injury seven games into the 2007 campaign. He needed surgery, and the Jets put him on IR.
New York then traded Vilma to the Saints for a fourth-round draft pick.
His first three seasons in New Orleans were productive and saw him miss just one game. According to the analytics website Pro Football Focus, he led the team in each season with 57, 44 and 46 stops, or solo tackles that resulted in a failed play on offense for opponents.
He accounted for nine turnovers and helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV.
But he sat out five games with knee problems in 2011. He also spent the first six weeks of 2012 on the physically unable to perform list as he recovered from offseason knee surgery.
He was much less prolific the past two years. For example, he was credited with just 18 stops in 2011 as well as in 2012.
After Vilma’s first practice following his surgery, he told reporters he wouldn’t object to being on IR if at any point he experienced too much pain in the knee on which he was operated.
“You look at a lot of the older guys ... and I want to be able to walk ... when I’m 50 or 60 years old,” said Vilma, who, during his remarks, alluded to Earl Campbell, a workhorse running back for the Houston Oilers and the Saints in the 1970s and 80s who now copes with severe arthritis and back pain.
“You start hearing about guys and how they’re not really living — they’re just surviving. I don’t want to be one of those guys.”
Linebacker David Hawthorne stepped in for Vilma and was effective. He’s had 23 stops in the Saints’ first eight games, trailing only fellow linebacker Curtis Lofton, who amassed 33. Hawthorne is tied for third on the team with three quarterback sacks.
Members of the Saints met with the media before the NFL put out the news about Vilma, but players spoke highly of him.
“Jonathan’s very cerebral,” Lofton said. “He makes everyone that much better because he sees stuff others don’t. He’s just like having a coach” on the field.
Carr, a nine-year pro, played 93 snaps of defense and some special teams for New Orleans (6-2) in the five games between Sept. 22 and Oct. 27, breaking up two passes and picking off one. He posted four solo tackles and assisted on another one.
Check back with The Advocate later for more from Saints camp.