Former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma announces retirement _lowres

FILE - In this Oct. 21, 2012, file photo, New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma watches from the sideline during an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Scott Iskowitz, File)

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Jonathan Vilma has officially called it a career.

The former Saints linebacker announced his retirement from professional football prior to Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.

“I’m excited to be retiring from my playing career as a member of the New Orleans Saints,” Vilma said in a statement. “I loved everything about being a Saint and was fortunate to be surrounded by so many outstanding coaches and teammates for six yards and to be part of the team that won Super Bowl XLIV.”

Vilma joined the Saints in 2008 via a trade with the New York Jets and played his last game in 2013. During his six seasons with the team, he recorded 530 tackles, eight sacks, six interceptions, 27 passes defensed and five forced fumbles.

He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2010. He also served as a captain from 2009-2012 and was named the team’s “Man of the Year” in 2010 after raising over $400,000 to help Haiti recover from an earthquake.

Vilma made the Pro Bowl once as a member of the Jets and earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after being selected in the first round of the 2004 draft.

Overall, Vilma ended his career with 871 tackles, 12 interceptions, 10.5 sacks and 11 forced fumbles over 10 seasons.

“When we acquired him in 2008, the energy that he brought to our defense and our team overall was evident immediately,” general manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement. “His leadership, the passion that he showed in our building every day and his production on the field played an important role in propelling us towards a World Championship.

“Jonathan has secured his place as one of the top players in our franchise’s history and we congratulate him as he moves on from his playing career.”

Coach Sean Payton, who has praised the linebacker on numerous occasions, voiced a similar sentiment.

“Jonathan Vilma is one of the most talented, dedicated and determined players that I have had the pleasure to coach,” he said. “Whether it was on the practice field, in the meeting room or in the weight room, Jonathan’s leadership, preparation and effort were second to none. He was an enormous asset to our team and was an integral part of us winning a Super Bowl.”

Vilma’s playing days came to an end in 2013 after he was placed on injured reserve during November of that season. He started that season on short-term injured reserve, came back for one game, and was shut down after playing 12 snaps.

Vilma had battled a left knee injury for a few seasons and reportedly had at least four procedures performed on his knee. He played 11 games during the 2012 season but experienced swelling in his knee during training camp and was placed on injured reserve to start the year.

Following the season, Vilma was released alongside cornerback Jabari Greer, safety Roman Harper and defensive end Will Smith.

Vilma has served as a guest analyst for Bleacher Report at times since his playing days ended.

“I think the things that define Jonathan Vilma the most are his combination of competitiveness, leadership and passion for the game of football,” linebackers coach Joe Vitt said. “He’s one of the toughest, smartest, and most accountable football players I have ever been around in my 36 yards of coaching and the most unselfish player I have ever coaches.

“Jonathan was and is going to be a great ambassador for our game because he played it the right way.”