NEW YORK (AP) -The New York Jets traded linebacker Jonathan Vilma to the New Orleans Saints on Friday for an undisclosed draft pick.
Vilma, who missed the last nine weeks of last season because of an injured right knee, had his production decline the last two years after coach Eric Mangini took over and installed a 3-4 defensive scheme. With rookie David Harris' emergence as a playmaker at inside linebacker, Vilma became expendable.
``I enjoyed my four seasons with the Jets and thank them for the opportunities they gave me,'' Vilma said in a statement. ``But this represents a new chapter in my football career and in my life and I am truly excited and fortunate to be joining a team that just a little over a year ago was one win away from appearing in the Super Bowl.''
Vilma, who will be 26 in April, had 118 tackles after being the No. 12 overall pick out of Miami in 2004 and being named defensive rookie of the year. He led the NFL the following season with 187 tackles, earning a Pro Bowl selection while establishing himself as one of the league's top young middle linebackers.
That changed in 2006, when the Jets switched defenses upon Mangini's arrival from New England and Vilma had just 116 tackles. He played in seven games last season before injuring his knee at Cincinnati and had 39 tackles. Meanwhile, Harris appeared to be the perfect fit for the defense, racking up a team-leading 117 tackles, including 20 in Week 9 against Washington.
Vilma, a two-time defensive captain, was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 27. He would have been a free agent after next season, and reportedly was given permission to explore trade options with other teams.
He should become an immediate starter at middle linebacker as the Saints seek to solidify a defense that ranked 26th in the league last season after giving up an average of 348 yards per game. Unlike the Jets, the Saints play a 4-3 defense.
Mark Simoneau, a free agent, started at middle linebacker last season in New Orleans, flanked by Scott Fujita on the strong side and Scott Shanle on the weak side.
``In talking with people that are familiar with him, it is clear that he is serious and passionate about the game, that winning is something that is extremely important to him and he has leadership skills that he backs up with his play on the field,'' Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. ``We are aware and comfortable with his progress in returning from the injury that sidelined him for the second half of the 2007 season.''
Vilma recently wrote on his Web site that his knee was ``doing fine'' and that he had started jogging, but hadn't done any sprinting yet.
``We've consulted with our medical staff and spent time investigating the particulars surrounding the injury,'' Loomis said. ``We're confident that he will return to the standard of play that he set through the first 3 1/2 years of his career.''
During his four seasons with the Jets, Vilma started 53 of 55 games he played and had 460 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, three fumble recoveries, five forced fumbles and 14 passes defensed.
It was a busy day for the Jets, who earlier made another change to their defense by acquiring former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kris Jenkins from Carolina for third- and fifth-round picks.
The Jets also signed defensive tackle Sione Pouha to a three-year contract extension. Pouha, who showed marked improvement last season after coming back from a knee injury the previous year, had one year remaining on his rookie contract.
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AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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