Brian Allee-Walsh

Welcome back Roman Harper, no matter how long his stay

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD 
 Saints cornerback Jabari Greer and strong safety Roman Harper combine to knock the ball from Lions receiver Titus Young. Roman Harper will be rejoining the New Orleans Saints after two years with the Carolina Panthers.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Saints cornerback Jabari Greer and strong safety Roman Harper combine to knock the ball from Lions receiver Titus Young. Roman Harper will be rejoining the New Orleans Saints after two years with the Carolina Panthers.

Roman Harper apparently is returning to his NFL roots.

Yes, the former New Orleans Saints two-time Pro Bowl strong safety and second-round pick in 2006 has agreed to rejoin the Black and Gold after sleeping with the enemy the past two seasons, the three-time defending NFC South champion Carolina Panthers.

Now before anyone in Who Dat Nation starts making Super Bowl LI plans, think again. Let me put it this way: If the Saints are counting on Harper to be the missing ingredient for a historically bad defense in 2012, '14 and '15, they're in trouble. If anyone thinks Harper can do for this defense what free agent pick-up Darren Sharper did for the Saints in 2009, think twice. A decent tackler and solid edge rusher in blitz situations, Harper had barrels of trouble when asked to cover a tight end or anyone else in open space.

He was part of that mass house cleaning/exits on defense after the 2013 season, along with Will Smith, Jabari Greer, Malcolm Jenkins and Jonathan Vilma. Though individual cases can be made for all of those departures, the sum effect of losing five experienced hands in one fell swoop proved detrimental.

But, if the Saints are counting on Harper plugging a hole in the secondary for defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, providing valuable leadership on and off the field and serving as a player-coach type during his time in the Big Easy, however long it might be, then Harper's the right man for the job.

No disrespect to Harper, but there's a very good reason why he didn't re-up with the Panthers this offseason after starting 32 regular-season games the past two seasons and recording a career-high four interceptions in 2014. Simply, the two are headed in opposite directions. The Panthers have designs on returning to the Super Bowl after being upset by Denver in the Big Five-Oh and Harper, well, he's a 10-year veteran probably nearing the end of a very respectable NFL career.

Perhaps, he's already contemplating retirement as a Saint when his playing days are finished. As a major contributor on the Super Bowl XLIV championship team, this franchise would welcome him with open arms.

Two things I know about this signing: One, he comes cheap. And two, he's no lock to make the Saints' final 53, not with the plethora of bodies and amount of money GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton have tied up in the safety position.

In fact, this transaction gives me more reason to pause and wonder about the health and availability of safety Jairus Byrd than to speculate on Harper's long-term status in New Orleans.

I see a red danger flag dancing in the wind.

Assuming Byrd will be ready for the regular season (the opener at home against Oakland on Sept. 11 is 93 days and counting), Harper will join safeties Kenny Vaccaro, second-round draft pick Vonn Bell, Jamarca Sanford and newcomer Alden Darby, among others, battling for jobs.

Meantime, I'm glad to see Harper back with the Saints, whether it's merely for a cup of coffee or a full blown home-cooked meal with all the fixings.

Brian Allee-Walsh, is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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