Tampa Bay has been in heavy pursuit of New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma since free agency began at midnight and have battled the Saints tooth and nail for the 26-year old’s services. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, Vilma opted to stay in New Orleans, making his decision just after 5:00 p.m. on Friday.
The Buccaneers had hoped to land three impact players on the first day of free agency in 2009. The team missed out on prized free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth early Friday morning, finishing second in the bidding to Washington, who landed the mammoth 6-foot-6, 320-pound defender with a seven-year contract that totals $100 million, includes $41 million in guaranteed money and could be worth as much as $115 with incentives.
But Bucs general manager Mark Dominik rebounded in the afternoon, helping Tampa Bay’s offense by infusing some speed and playmaking ability at the tight end position with a trade for Cleveland’s Kellen Winslow II. The loss of Vilma, which was the second-most targeted player in Tama Bay this offseason, caps off a busy and somewhat disappointing and unproductive day at One Buccaneer Place for Dominik and new head coach Raheem Morris.
Vilma had a great year for the Saints in 2008 after coming over from a trade with the New York Jets, recording 132 tackles, according to NFL.com, along with two forced fumbles, one sack and one interception. Vilma has 465 tackles, 25 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles, seven interceptions and 3.5 sacks in his career.
The Bucs were courting him as an outside linebacker that would play next to middle linebacker Barrett Ruud.â€¨Vilma has only missed nine games in his five-year NFL career, those coming during the 2007 season when he suffered a knee injury. Of the 71 games he’s played in, Vilma has started 69 of those contests.
The loss of Vilma, Michael Boley, who signed with the New York Giants, and Bart Scott, who is expected to sign with either the Jets or the Baltimore Ravens, leaves the free agent market for impact linebackers somewhat bare.
The release of Derrick Brooks and Cato June on Wednesday leaves Geno Hayes, Quincy Black, Adam Hayward, Matt McCoy, Rod Wilson and Jamall Johnson battling for the two vacant linebacker spots flanking Ruud.
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