Who will replace Saints (and former Saints) players suspended for bounty scandal?

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer
On Wednesday, the NFL handed down the penalties for the players involved in the Saints bounty program. These penalties were harsh, but it's hard to call them completely unfair. (Though the NFLPA and the players involved will at least attempt to do so.)

The Saints organization has already gone through most of the nightmarish process that's required to replace Sean Payton for his year-long suspension, but what about replacing the players? Some guys are still on the Saints, while various others are now on different teams' rosters.

Since the news is coming after free agency and the draft, let's use our super-handy 2012 NFL Free Agent Tracker and 2012 NFL DraftTracker and take a look at whether or not these teams did a sufficient job of replacing the players they'll lose because of the punishment.

Jonathan Vilma, LB, Saints (1 year)
Vilma was reportedly bracing for a two-to-eight-game suspension and today he probably feels the same way that Sean Payton felt when Roger Goodell hammered him: stunned. The Saints are apparently much less surprised by the length of the suspension than Vilma is, because they've already addressed the issue with Vilma. They didn't do it through the draft, mainly because they didn't have many draft picks.

But in free agency, the Saints definitely helped themselves at the linebacker position, going out and signing Curtis Lofton (previously of the Falcons) and David Hawthorne (previously of the Seahawks). Since Vilma's suspended without pay for the season, it's unlikely that the Saints will cut him. And Vilma helped himself when he restructured his contract less than two weeks ago, which reportedly saved him $1 million when he converted money into a signing bonus.

The Saints will miss Vilma, but they'll be fine without him. Some people (I'm one) think that replacing Vilma with Lofton will make them better than before.

Will Smith, DE, Saints (4 games)
Smith's going to be harder to replace for the Saints, who don't have a lot of depth at defensive end and didn't address the position either in free agency or the draft. After Smith, the Saints have Cameron Jordan (one of last year's first-round picks), Turk McBride, Greg Romeus, Junior Galette as well as just-signed undrafted free agents Tyrunn Walker and Braylon Broughton.

It's a real position of weakness and that's not good news with the Saints playing the Redskins (Robert Griffin III), Panthers (Cam Newton) and Packers (Aaron Rodgers) in three of the first four games. No offense, Chiefs (or Matt Cassel).

There's a possibility that New Orleans could look to make a trade for a defensive end, although since this is the one of the shorter suspensions, they could simply sign another free agent, like Andre Carter, who remains unsigned. Maybe Ted Thompson should call and offer ...

Anthony Hargrove, DE, Packers (8 games)
Although Mickey Loomis probably knows that would be a bad deal. And the Packers clearly knew that they were going to get hit with a Hargrove suspension. Or at least were significantly concerned with it -- while Thompson didn't go out and sign any big-name free agents on the defensive line (unless you count Hargrove, ha), he did do a great job of addressing it during the draft.

At the time, it simply looked like he was concerned about Green Bay's ability to get to the passer. Perhaps he was also worried about a suspension for Hargrove. Either way, adding Nick Perry (DE, USC) in the first round looks pretty smart now. And the trade up to snag Jerel Worthy (DT, Mississippi State), which was great at the time, looks pretty brilliant now. Thompson also later fortified his line by drafting DT Mike Daniels out Iowa in the fourth round.

Scott Fujita, LB, Browns (3 games)
The Browns probably did the least to replace Fujita, but it's not like they expected him to play the entire season anyway: he's played in just 19 total games since they signed him away from New Orleans prior to the 2010 season.

Cleveland used a fourth-round pick on Nevada inside linebacker James-Michael Johnson and a fifth-round pick on outside linebacker Emmanuel Acho from Texas.
 
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