Former Saints S Roman Harper jumps to divisional rival Panthers
A second-round selection out of Alabama in the 2006 NFL draft, Harper has been a mainstay at strong safety in New Orleans for the most of his past eight seasons. However, Harper missed seven games due injuries last seasons and finished his 2013 campaign with 39 tackles as well as just one pass defensed.
Harper started the first two games of the 2013 season for the Saints before missing time with a knee injury. He returned to his starting role after rookie Kenny Vaccaro fractured his ankle in Week 17.
While Harper said before free agency that he would ideally like to remain in New Orleans, he was released – along with veterans Will Smithj, Jabari Greer and Lance Moore – in a cost-cutting move by the Saints last month. Still, Harper believed that he could still play as a starting calibre safety.
"I still play at a high level and in my mind I'm always a starting safety in this league," Harper said in his last interview with the local media. "Until somebody tells me I can't, then I won't. ...”
"I left everything out there and I put some good stuff on tape. I'm proud of that. I'll continue to be proud of myself until I stop."
For his nine seasons in New Orleans, Harper had 17 sacks and seven interceptions and made the Pro Bowl twice (2009 and '10). His 17 sacks are most in NFL among defensive backs since 2006, and his 13 forced fumbles are tied for sixth among defensive backs in the same span. Still, Harper was more of a heavy box safety for the Saints who made a name for himself as an attacking blitzer and run stuffer, but was victimized at time in deep pass coverage.
However, the Panthers had some success putting together a good defense by investing in mid-tier free agents last offseason, and they seem to be headed in a similar direction with the acquisition of Harper. With Mike Mitchell leaving for Pittsburgh earlier this week, the Panthers have a void to fill at safety. The 31-year-old Harper adds a veteran presence to the Panthers’ secondary.
Moreover its helps that as divisional rivals of the Saints, the Panthers have seen Harper on the field plenty of times. This defiantly helps them to decide whether Harper can serve as a low-cost free agency pickup turn, who will transform into a fundamental part of the Panthers’ already impressive defense in defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's system.
It’s unclear what the signing of the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Harper means for free safety Charles Godfrey, who is coming off an Achilles injury and counts $7.1 million against the Panthers’ salary cap for next season.