Saints, Vilma reach terms on five-year, $34 million contract

The New Orleans Saints have agreed to terms on a new contract with linebacker Jonathan Vilma, bringing back the team's leading tackler.

The Saints confirmed the five-year deal in a statement on Friday but did not disclose terms of the deal. NFL Network's Adam Schefter reports the contract is worth $34 million, including $17 million guaranteed and $23 million over the first three years.

"We made re-signing Jonathan our top priority, and this is an important first step as we prepare for the 2009 season," said executive vice president/general manager Mickey Loomis. "Jonathan proved he could come back from his injury and play at a high level and we expect the same or better from him starting this season."

Vilma led the Saints with 151 tackles and three forced fumbles in 2008 along with a pair of fumble recoveries, a sack and an interception in his first season in New Orleans.

He played his first four seasons with the New York Jets and was acquired by the Saints in a trade in February of 2008. Last season he led or shared the team lead in stops in 10 games -- recording double-digit tackle totals in eight games -- and turned in a handful of memorable performances.

"Jonathan is a true impact player on defense and one of our leaders," said coach Sean Payton. "He is consistent, he never comes off the field, and we rely on him to make plays. He proved to be everything we expected when we made the trade for him last year, and having him agree to terms today is a key factor heading into this season."

The 2004 Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Jets after being selected 12th overall out of the University of Miami, Vilma was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2005 when he led the league with 187 tackles. Over his career, he has notched 611 stops (412 solo), 3.5 sacks, seven interceptions, eight forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries.

Entering his sixth season, Vilma has started 69 of 71 contests in his career, including all 16 last year for the Saints.

Vilma has also been known as one of the NFL's most community-minded players during his tenure in the league. Vilma served as a spokesman for the NFL's Lend A Hand campaign, was a board member of the National Football Foundation's "Play It Smart" Program and has given numerous talks in schools about success on the field and in the classroom.

The team also announced the free agent visit of CB Ronald Bartell.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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