Valentine's Day is a day to celebrate feelings of love and affection. A day to show that special someone how much they really mean to you. A day to be struck by the arrow of a scantily clad, winged, Greek archer. The greeting card companies and local restauranteurs embrace it as much as the young man trying to impress his lovely girlfriend with a heart-shaped box of chocolates and a bouquet of her favorite flowers. Smitten love birds throughout the world wish every day could be Valentine's Day.
Then there are days like Wednesday, February 12. The days when the harsh reality of the real world can come crashing down on you, whether you are prepared or not. This was the day when four beloved, long serving New Orleans Saints were informed that their immediate futures no longer lie with the team that either drafted them or brought them in to help secure the franchise's first ever Lombardi Trophy. Will Smith, Roman Harper, Jabari Greer and Jonathan Vilma are now gone, but their impact on this team and city will never be forgotten.
Will Smith was one of 3 Saints released on Wednesday.
Will Smith was the Saints' 1st round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft, following a standout college career at Ohio State where he won a national title in January 2003. Smith joined the likes od Darren Howard, Charles Grant, Bobby McCray, Anthony Hargrove, Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan to generate a formidable pass rush for New Orleans' often beleagured defenses over the years. Smith entered 2013 as the longest tenured Saint, but succumbed to a torn ACL during the team's preaseason game against the Houston Texans in August. Smith, finishing his Saints career ranking 4th in the team's history of sacks, was not an ideal fit into Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme before the injury. That coupled with his high salary left the cap-strapped Saints with a financially easy yet emotionally difficult decision to release him. Before 2013, Smith was a rock for the saints defense and helped anchor the defensive line during the multiple divison winning seasons including the unforgettable 2009 season, when New Orleans won the Super Bowl.
Like Smith, Roman Harper was drafted by the Saints and has been in New Orleans his entire career. Taken in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft, Harper has been a staple of the Saints defense since his rookie year, when New Orleans found themselves one win away from a Super Bowl appearance. One of the most valuable picks of the Sean payton era, Harper's role was somewhat reduced in 2013 as he began to rotate with rookie Kenny Vaccaro and Malcolm Jenkins in the secondary. His play and production was solid, but a knee injury hampered him throughout the campaign and at age 31, the Saints decided to move on, saving over $2 million in cap space. A two-time Pro Bowler, Harper should have opportunities on the open market. Though his most productive days are behind him, Harper can still provide an invaluable veteran presence on a young team in need of experience in the secondary.
Jabari Greer went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2004, but that did not stop him from making the Buffalo Bills roster and sticking until 2008. Following that season, Greer signed a 4 year deal with New Orleans, going on to play a big part in the team's Super Bowl XLIV success. One of the best free agent signings of General Manager Mickey Loomis's tenure, Greer became a reliable presence in the Saints' secondary, often squaring off against the opposing team's best receiver. Unfortunately, his 2013 season came to an abrupt end with a gruesome knee injury in November and like Smith and Harper, Greer now finds himself as a cap casualty as the Saints look to chop and change their way under the cap. Assuming he makes a full recovery, Greer should have a chance to beat the odds and find a new home on the open market. Several teams around the league in need of a leader and experienced cover man would be blessed to have his services.LB Jonathan Vilma
Finally, Jonathan Vilma rounds out what is likely just the first wave of departures in New Orleans. Vilma was acquired in 2008 via a trade with the New York Jets and made an instant impact with his new team, calling the signals and helping shore up a defense that seemingly always held the team back from reaching its potential. One of the more exciting acquisitions in recent Saints offseasons, Vilma captained the Saints defense during its Super Bowl run and was a spectacular presence on the field before knee issues and the bounty scandal altered his final two seasons in New Orleans. Appearing in just one game in 2013, Vilma will not be offered a new deal by New Orleans as the team looks to save as much money as possible heading into the free agency period. Like Greer, if Vilma can get healthy and prove his fitness, there should be opportunities for him to further his career should the right fit exist. His days of flying around racking up tackles are in the past, but Vilma is as smart and experienced as they come.
It's never easy to part ways with those who have made such a meaningful impact on your body of success, and the Saints front office would be the first to admit such. This is the nature of the business side of the game, and all four players have handled their exits with as much grace and dignity as you could expect. While we are digging in to our box of chocolates, let's chew on one for this quartet of Saints who made an everlasting impact on the organization and in the community. There will always be love for them in the Crescent City, no matter what day it is.