New Orleans? (Getty)

On Tuesday, the Saints signed former Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne to a five-year deal. That news would be somewhat unremarkable until you take into account that Hawthorne is the third linebacker signed by the Saints in the past two weeks.

And until you consider that commissioner Roger Goodell still hasn’t ruled on any player disciplinary measures from the Saints bounty program, meaning the status of linebacker Jonathan Vilma is still unknown.

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And since we don’t know when and if Vilma -- cited by the NFL investigation as the man who offered $10,000 to a teammate who could knock Brett Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game -- will be around to play this year, you have to wonder if the Saints are planning to go into the season without him.

After Curtis Lofton signed a five-year deal with New Orleans, taking him away from division rival Atlanta, one report suggested that the Saints still saw Vilma as a “big part of the team.” But now that the Saints have inked Hawthorne, ranked No. 31 in our top 100 free agent rankings, and Chris Chamberlain, you have to wonder if that’s really true.

“I think myself and the other newcomers are looking forward to having the opportunity to coming into a program ... with a group that has experienced so much success,” Hawthorne told the team website. “I really feel like I can compete at any one of the three (linebacker) positions. I won’t be doing anything I haven’t done before. It’s football. I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to show them what I can do.”

Of course, Hawthorne, who’s accumulated at least 105 tackles in each of the past three seasons has played as a middle linebacker -- which just happens to be Vilma’s position (Lofton also is a middle linebacker).

That is an obvious trend to point out, but when Sports Illustrated’s Peter King tweeted those thoughts, Vilma didn’t care for his point of view.

Any way you look at it, it’s hard to imagine the Hawthorne signing is a good omen for Vilma. At this moment, it does seem like the Saints are preparing for life without Vilma.

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