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Player suspensions won't hurt the Saints much

The severity of the suspensions for the players involved in the New Orleans Saints bounty program took us by surprise. (Even if it shouldn't have.)

There will be a lot written Wednesday regarding whether NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was just in his decision. We'll hear plenty in the coming week about the players' appeals of the suspension.

Lost in all of the furor: These suspensions won't hurt the 2012 New Orleans Saints that much. Really.

Losing coach Sean Payton hurts, but what exactly do the Saints have to replace on the field? Anthony Hargrove, suspended eight games, plays for the Green Bay Packers. Linebacker Scott Fujita, suspended three games, plays for the Cleveland Browns. That leaves linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith.

Saints prepared for losing Vilma

The dirty unsaid secret in New Orleans: Vilma wasn't a very good player last year. Yes, he's a leader. But his history of injuries caught up to him on the field. His tackling was suspect and even his vaunted pass coverage skills took a hit. Vilma was a big reason why the Saints struggled to stop the run.

ProFootballFocus grades every snap for the entire season. They ranked him No. 45 out of a possible 50 inside linebackers. Vilma had to take a pay cut just to keep his roster spot this year. That would have been the sensible move for New Orleans regardless of his possible suspension.

The Saints prepared for this moment. They signed middle linebacker Curtis Lofton for big bucks in free agency. They signed underrated thumper David Hawthorne from the Seattle Seahawks to improve their run defense. They signed former St. Louis Rams linebacker Chris Chamberlain, who played under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The Saints knew this was coming and they are a better team for it.

Saints can survive missing Smith

The Saints need more production from the defensive end spot, but Will Smith's four game suspension isn't devastating. Smith, who turns 31 this summer, is at the stage of his career when he's an average starter. He's averaged six sacks over the past two seasons. He's a valuable piece to the Saints, but he will be back before the games really matter.

The Saints will miss Vilma's leadership, but they have played without him before. Vilma missed five games in 2011. They won all five.

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