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Jonathan Vilma announces retirement, honored by Saints

NEW ORLEANS - Three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jonathan Vilma officially announced his retirement Sunday, and he was honored on the field by the New Orleans Saints before their game against the Carolina Panthers.

Vilma, who captained New Orleans' defense to the Saints' first Super Bowl victory in the 2009 season, has not played since 2013.

Vilma did not speak pregame, but he waved to the crowd, and highlights were shown on the video boards. Vilma led the traditional "Who Dat" chant before kickoff, which is usually led by an active player.

Vilma spent his first four seasons with the New York Jets as a first-round draft pick out of Miami (Fla.).

"I'm excited to be retiring from my playing career as a member of the New Orleans Saints," Vilma said in a statement. "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."

Vilma, 33, was the Associated Press' Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2004. He made the Pro Bowl in 2005 with the Jets and in 2009 and 2010 with the Saints. He arrived in New Orleans in 2008 via trade and immediately became Drew Brees' counterpart as the "quarterback" of the Saints' defense.

Vilma was a central figure in the Saints' bounty scandal in 2012. He was originally suspended a full year, but he fought it through appeals and a defamation lawsuit against commissioner Roger Goodell. The suspension was ultimately vacated by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue on appeal.

Vilma finished his career with 871 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 12 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. His 10-year career was cut short by nagging knee injuries.

"Jonathan Vilma is one of the most talented, dedicated and determined players that I have had the pleasure to coach," Saints coach Sean Payton said in a statement.

"Jonathan is the epitome of what our team stands for," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement. "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."

The Saints scored a defensive TD Sunday against the Panthers for the first time since 2012. Rookie linebacker Stephone Anthony returned a fumble 31 yards for a score in the first quarter. The most recent Saints defensive touchdown was by Vilma in 2012 -- also at home against the Panthers.