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Vilma practices, his Saints' teammates encouraged

Vilma practices, his Saints' teammates encouraged

METAIRIE, La. (AP) As the Saints began their pre-practice stretch on Wednesday, receiver Lance Moore hopped up, looked over at linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and hollered, ``Glad you're back! We missed you!'' while the entire team offered a round of applause.

``Hello!'' Vilma responded with a smile, still seated on the field, one leg pulled over another.

Vilma then did something he had yet to do in 2012: practice.

And it was obvious the Saints were pulling for him to be ready to play this Sunday in Tampa Bay, which might be his only chance to get back on the field this season if his bounty suspension, currently on appeal, winds up going back into effect in a week or so.

``Vilma continues to fight for what's right and a fair process which I think is extremely justified,'' Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. ``The fact that he was out there practicing today, it just kind of puts a smile on everybody's face knowing what he's been through and having the opportunity to get him back.''

Vilma did not work with the first team, but also did not wear any kind of brace or sleeve on his surgically repaired left knee, which has been another obstacle to his return.

``He's back,'' safety Malcolm Jenkins said. ``He's doing a bunch of extra stuff, too, to make sure he's ready as far as conditioning and things like that. But he's ready to play. I know he's been champing at the bit and this is his opportunity this week and I know he'll be ready.''

Vilma had several offseason procedures done on his knee, which had slowed him last season and sidelined him five games. He even traveled to Germany to see a specialist in platelet rich plasma therapy, a relatively new blood-spinning technique also used by Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

Vilma's initial season-long suspension was handed down in May and went into effect in July after his initial appeal was rejected. That suspension lasted through training camp before being vacated by a three-member appeal panel that instructed Commissioner Roger Goodell to start the disciplinary process again and clarify his reasons for suspending Vilma and three others - Saints defensive end Will Smith, free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita - in connection with New Orleans' cash-for-hits bounty pool.

Because of his rehabilitation, Vilma was placed on the Saints' physically unable to perform list when his initial suspension was lifted, a move that saved the Saints a roster spot and also prevented Vilma from practicing or playing during the first six weeks of the regular season.

The suspensions were reissued last week and promptly appealed by all four players, with appeal hearings set for next Tuesday at NFL headquarters in New York. Vilma remains suspended for the season and Smith for four games. Hargrove's was reduced from eight to seven games and Fujita from three to one.

Vilma did not make himself available for comment while the locker room at Saints headquarters was opened to reporters on Wednesday afternoon. However, his teammates had plenty to say about how he looked and what it would mean to get him back on the field.

``Having him on the sideline when he wasn't suited up was one thing,'' linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. ``Now, suited up, ready to go, maybe get some plays here and there ... It's definitely good to have him out there. He's always been that energy on the defensive side of the ball that we needed.''

For the past four seasons, Vilma was a defensive captain and starting middle linebacker, making all the defensive calls on the field. Now the Saints have a new defense under first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Vilma has now practiced in the scheme only once, although he has been numerous defensive meetings.

``It's Jonathan Vilma. He's one of best football players in the National Football League. He's an instinctive player and he's been in all the meetings for the entire time he's been on PUP, allowing him to see what's going on, understand the schemes,'' interim head coach Aaron Kromer said. ``All we can do as see as it goes on, but I would expect Jon would come back quickly because he's Jon Vilma. ... He does look healthy.''

Kromer and Spagnuolo have said they can find a spot for Vilma, even if Curtis Lofton remains at starting middle linebacker. Lofton said he also is confident he and Vilma will have good chemistry on the field.

``You can't have too many great football players out on the football field,'' Lofton said. ``You can't have too many leaders and too many communicators on the field at once.

``He's been the leader of the defense,'' Lofton added. ``Having him back out there, seeing his face, seeing him in pads knowing everything he's been through and is going through and worked so hard to come back on the football field, it adds extra energy. Guys are excited and I'm excited to play with him.''

Notes: Three players missed practice on Wednesday, including two linebackers, David Hawthorne (right hamstring) and Scott Shanle (illness). TE Jimmy Graham (right ankle) also was out. ... CB Jabari Greer (right groin) and RG Jahri Evans (left big toe) were limited.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

The Stanley Cup is not the only trophy that will be awarded at the end of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. The Conn Smythe will also be given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team during the playoffs.

Who will that player be?

It's not hard to figure out who the frontrunner is right now. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't just been the best goalie in the playoffs, he's been the best player with a dominant postseason in which he has posted a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He has been so dominant, he could win it even if Vegas loses the series.

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

The last player from the losing team to win the Conn Smythe was Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003.

But what about the Caps?

Alex Ovechkin is the leader of Washington and has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason. He even scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Surprisingly, however, Ovechkin does not lead the team in points through the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds that edge with 24 points to Ovechkin's 22.

Will their offensive dominance propel them to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe? Will a different player emerge as the hero of the series?

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

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Associated Press

Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 26, 17 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Contract makes Alex Smith a Redskins for at least three seasons

This post was originally published on March 19. 

When the Redskins traded for Alex Smith on January 30, news also broke that he had agreed to a four-year extension with Washington in addition to the one year left on his contract with the Chiefs. While we got some top-line numbers on the deal, we have gone since then without any details. 

Until now. 

The details show a deal that has a slightly higher cap hit in 2018 than was on his original Chiefs contract and the numbers rise gradually over the life of the deal, which runs through 2022. 

Smith got a $27 million signing bonus and his salaries for 2018 ($13 million) and 2019 ($15 million) also are fully guaranteed at signing making the total $55 million (information via Over the Cap, which got data from a report by Albert Breer). 

But there I another $16 million that is guaranteed for all practical purposes. On the fifth day of the 2019 league year, his 2020 salary of $16 million becomes fully guaranteed. He almost assuredly will get to the point where that money will become guaranteed since the Redskins are not going to cut him after one year having invested $55 million in him. So the total guarantees come to $71 million. 

His 2021 salary is $19 million and it goes up to $21 million in 2022. There have been reports of some incentives available to Smith but since we have no details we’ll set those aside for now. 

The cap hits on the contract are as follows: 

2018: $18.4 million
2019: $20.0 million
2020: $21.4 million
2021: $24.4 million
2022: $26.4 million

The Redskins can realistically move on from Smith after 2020. There would be net cap savings of $13 million in 2021 and $21 million in 2022. 

The first impression of the deal is that the Redskins did not move on from Kirk Cousins because they didn’t want to guarantee a lot of money to a quarterback. The total practical guarantee of $71 million is second only to Cousins’ $82.5 million. It should be noted that Cousins’ deal runs for three years and Smith’s contract is for five. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler