Jonathan Vilma never imagined himself as a member of the media, even when early in his career with the Jets his agent, Maury Gostfrand, suggested he would be a natural.
“I was like, ‘Man, no way,’” Vilma recalled. “We’re always taught as players: Don’t talk to the media. The media is bad. They’re not your friend. All that stuff. I was like, ‘I’m not joining the dark side. That’s crazy.’
“It was like being a traitor or something.”
Vilma, now 38, will not exactly be covering NFL games as an ordinary journalist on deadline, but a member of the media he shall be when/if the season begins in September.
Fox plans to announce on Wednesday that Vilma will join its roster of game analysts, having previously been a college studio analyst for ESPN.
Vilma declined to say which play-by-play man he will work with, but last month the New York Post reported he likely would be paired with Kenny Albert.
Vilma, a linebacker, was a first-round pick by the Jets out of the University of Miami in 2004 and spent four years with the team, making a Pro Bowl in 2005.
He later made two more Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl with the Saints, where in 2012 he was a key figure in the “Bountygate” scandal, initially receiving a full-season suspension before having it vacated that December.
Like many New York-area athletes before him, Vilma found his time with the Jets to be an invaluable training ground for a career in media.
“Back in the UM days, we had the biggest spotlight for college,” he said. “We’re winning national championships and playing well, so I figured it would be kind of the same when you go to New York.
“Boy, was I wrong. It was times 100 as far a media presence and getting scrutinized. But it was a lot of fun, because I always felt with Jets fans you can never be right by them, but if you gave 110 percent and you left it on the field they respected that, and I could respect that.”
Vilma said he also felt journalists respected his efforts, and that he tried not to take anything personally.
“From there, when I went to Saints, it was nothing; it was all watered down,” he said. “No offense to New Orleans, but there’s nothing like New York. Now I’m used to being scrutinized and in the spotlight.”
Vilma said he enjoyed his time at ESPN, where he did call three college games in addition to his studio work. But he said Fox “knew where to attack when they started recruiting,” because he was ready to do more games.
“They said, ‘Look, we know you are a student of the game, we know you like watching film and breaking down the game and talking about the players and coaches, so wouldn’t you want to do that for three hours instead of 12, 15 minutes at halftime?’” he said.
“I thought about that and they were right, you know, that’s true.”
Vilma said he has kept up with the pro game and is not concerned about making that transition. He also is not concerned about criticizing former colleagues.
“With the Saints, I’ll tell Sean [Payton], ‘Man, if you’re stinking it up, you’re stinking it up,’” he said. “That doesn’t bother me at all.”
Vilma praised the job his former coordinator with the Saints, Gregg Williams, did with the Jets in 2019. (Williams was suspended for the 2012 season because of the bounty case.)
“Defensively, they were pretty damn good,” Vilma said. “It doesn’t surprise me when it comes to Gregg Williams, having a stout defense, having guys who fly around. He’s always had that talent. He’s always had the players buy into the right mindset of playing defense, especially in this new age of kind of a watered-down physical league.
“I don’t say that to minimize the way that defense is played now. I understand the concussions and player safety. But he’s found a way to still keep that aggressive, tough-guy mentality and bravado to the defense where you can impose your will. You saw them do that at the end of the year, so I thought he did a great job.”