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Saints lose Bushrod, Daniel; Smith, Vilma get new deals

Last Modified: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 10:50 PM

The Chicago Bears on Tuesday agreed to a five-year contract with New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod, filling a major hole on the offensive line.

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the deal is potentially worth about $36 million, with $17.7 million guaranteed. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the terms had not been released.

Bushrod was drafted in the fourth round by New Orleans in 2007. He started on the Saints' 2009 championship team and made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons.

The 6-foot-5, 315-pound tackle fills a major hole on a line that has ranked among the league's worst in recent seasons. He reunites with Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, his position coach in New Orleans.

Also on Tuesday, Kansas City agreed to a deal with former Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel, defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma agreed to restructure their contracts in order to remain with New Orleans and reserve linebacker Will Herring was released after two seasons with the club.

Daniel has spent the past three years backing up Drew Brees in New Orleans. Herring wrote on Twitter that he appreciated his time in New Orleans.

The 31-year-old Smith and 30-year-old Vilma, both veteran defensive captains who were implicated in the NFL’s bounty probe, would have consumed about $23 million combined in salary cap space had they not agreed to new deals before the new league year — and free agency — began Tuesday afternoon.

Smith was a first-round pick by New Orleans in 2004. In 2008, he signed a six-year deal worth about $70 million. It was renegotiated before 2012 to convert salary to bonus and lower the cost of the contract against the salary cap for last season.

If the Saints kept him in 2013 under the terms of that contract, Smith would have cost the Saints about $14.5 million against the $123 million salary cap.

Smith’s agent, Joel Segal, confirmed that his client would remain with New Orleans but declined to discuss contract details.

Smith wrote on his Twitter page, “Loyalty is everything.”

Vilma was acquired in a trade with the Jets in 2008. Under his previous deal, he would have counted for about $8.6 million against the 2013 salary cap.

Both players have been captains for several seasons and were also statistical leaders on the 2009 Super Bowl team. They spent nearly all of last season successfully working to overturn suspensions NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had given them — a full season for Vilma and four games for Smith — in connection with the league’s investigation of the Saints’ cash-for-hits bounty program administered by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009 to 2011.

The NFL never absolved them of helping to organize a pool that paid improper cash bonuses for hard and potentially injurious hits. But after lengthy appeals, the league agreed to drop player suspensions in the interest of ending protracted legal challenges and bitter disputes with the NFL Players Association.

Smith has been among the Saints’ leaders in sacks during most of his nine seasons. He had as many as 13 sacks in 2009, but made six in 2012, the third-lowest total of his career.

Vilma joined the Saints as a middle linebacker in what was then a 4-3 defense and was credited with more than 100 tackles in each of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons. His production fell off sharply in 2011, when he was bothered by a knee injury that required surgery and also forced him to miss the first five games of 2012.

When Vilma returned, he played more at outside linebacker, with 2012 free-agent acquisition Curtis Lofton taking over in the middle. He was credited with 37 tackles, a sack and intercepted a pass for a touchdown.

The Saints, who have hired Rob Ryan as their new defensive coordinator, are switching to a 3-4 defensive scheme in which Vilma struggled with the Jets. Coach Sean Payton, however, has said recently that he believes Vilma and Smith could adapt to the Saints’ 3-4 scheme, because the club often used variations of a 3-4 defense in certain situations during recent seasons.

Herring, acquired as a free agent in 2011, played in all 16 games last season, starting one, and was credited with 13 tackles and one forced fumble.

“Thankful for my time with the Saints, my teammates, and their incredible fans!!” he wrote on his Twitter page.

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