The New Orleans Saints announced today that linebacker Jonathan Vilma has retired from professional football.
"I'm excited to be retiring from my playing career as a member of the New Orleans Saints," said Vilma. "I loved everything about being a Saint and was fortunate to be surrounded by so many outstanding coaches and teammates for six years and to be a part of the team that won Super Bowl XLIV. I would also like to thank our fans for making my playing career in New Orleans so memorable. I will never forget the amazing fans here and the experiences we shared together."
"Jonathan is the epitome of what our team stands for," said Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis. "When we acquired him in 2008, the energy that he brought to our defense and our team overall was evident immediately. 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."
"Jonathan Vilma is one of the most talented, dedicated and determined players that I have had the pleasure to coach," said Head Coach Sean Payton. "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."
"I think that the things that define Jonathan Vilma the most are his combination of competitiveness, leadership and passion for the game of football," said Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Joe Vitt. "He's one of the toughest, smartest and most accountable football players I have ever been around in my 36 years of coaching and the most unselfish player I have ever coached. Jonathan was and is going to be a great ambassador for our game because he played it the right way."
Vilma, 6-1, 230, was originally selected by the New York Jets in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft out of the University of Miami. After spending his first four NFL seasons with the Jets, where he was selected as the Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and to one Pro Bowl, the Coral Gables, Fla. native was acquired by the Saints in a trade in the 2008 offseason and in six seasons appeared in 70 games with 68 starts while manning the middle of the New Orleans defense and recorded 530 tackles (331 solo), eight sacks, six interceptions, 27 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. He was selected to Pro Bowls in 2009 and 2010 and led the Saints in tackles for three consecutive seasons from 2008-10.
After being acquired by the Saints, Vilma immediately helped transform the middle of the team's defense, posting 151 tackles (100 solo), one sack, one interception, two passes defensed, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in his first season with the club. He was elected by his teammates as the club's winner of the Ed Block Courage Award. Voted as a team captain for the first time in 2009, he posted 130 stops (102 solo), a career-high three interceptions and eight passes defensed, adding 14 more stops, one interception, two passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in the postseason en route to the Super Bowl XLIV victory.
Selected a defensive team captain four times as a Saint from 2009-12, Vilma appeared in 125 career NFL games with 121 starts over 10 seasons and posted career totals of 990 tackles (643 solo), 10.5 sacks, 12 interceptions, 41 passes defensed, 11 forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries.
Vilma was one of the club's most active players in the community during his Saints tenure. Born to parents who hailed from Haiti, he partnered with the Saints to host annual celebrity waiter dinners from 2010-13 to raise money to help the country recover from a devastating earthquake in 2010. Through the celebrity waiter dinners and other efforts, Vilma and his foundation raised over $400,000 towards the construction and operating costs of three new charter schools in the nation. He was named the club's "Man of the Year" in 2010 and was the team's nominee for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Vilma recorded 377 career tackles during his four-year college career for the Hurricanes, leading the team in tackles for three consecutive seasons (2001-03). In 2003, he was named an All-American by the American Football Coaches Association and the Walter Camp Foundation. He was inducted into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in finance with a minor in marketing.
Photos of Jonathan Vilma with the New Orleans Saints. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)