NFL Nation: Roman Harper

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Safety Roman Harper said his fast start with his new team, the Carolina Panthers, had “nothing to do with” trying to prove the New Orleans Saints wrong for letting him go.

But Harper, 31, admitted that he’s felt rejuvenated by being the "good-looking girl you see walking across the street" instead of the "old girlfriend."

[+] EnlargeRoman Harper
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsAfter eight seasons in New Orleans, Roman Harper will be facing his former team for the first time.
“My biggest thing is it’s just a different thing. It’s a different vibe, a different system. You’re learning all over again. You’re really focusing on the little things and the little details where before you felt like you knew it all because you’ve been in the same system for so long,” said Harper, who spent eight years with the Saints after being drafted in the second round out of Alabama in 2006. “Not only that, even the players and coaches, it’s all fresh. You’re a new face. You’re no longer stale to them. You’re not like the old girlfriend. You’re like the good-looking girl you see walking across the street. That’s what it’s about right now, and I’m excited to be here. It’s been great. It’s been very good.”

Harper, who will face his former team for the first time tonight in Carolina, won a Super Bowl ring and earned two Pro Bowl invites with the Saints, having his best years as an attacking blitzer under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009-11.

But Harper said he saw the writing on the wall when the Saints drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round last year.

“They drafted Kenny in the first round and they want to see him play. I think at the end of the day that’s kind of what it was. I never really felt like he beat me out or anything like that,” said Harper, whose cause wasn’t helped by the fact that he missed seven games with a knee injury last year and was due $3.15 million this year. “It’s the business. They want to see these guys play. They want to see their guys have success. There are no hard feelings, it’s just part of it. I was ready to move on and they were too.”

Harper’s former teammates raved this week about what a good person he was -- including the “band of brothers” that have been together since the Millsaps training camp days of 2006, as Drew Brees recalled, and including the younger players who have come since. Vaccaro, running back Mark Ingram (a fellow Alabama product) and tight end Jimmy Graham (a longtime practice matchup) all described him as a valued mentor.

Vaccaro, in fact, made a point to say to the New Orleans Advocate that Harper was much more welcoming to him than fellow former veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins was in that awkward relationship between veteran and newcomers fighting for snaps.

“It was a relief to be replacing someone like Roman,” Vaccaro told The Advocate. “It’s always tougher when they’re not helping you -- there’s tension, you feel awkward all the time. ... He was real selfless.”

That selflessness will be replaced by competing goals tonight, when Ingram said he’ll gladly lower a shoulder into his friend and Graham said he’ll try to make sure Harper’s personal scouting reports are obsolete.

Harper, who has continued to play primarily as an in-the-box safety who will cover tight ends on occasion, intercepted three passes in the Panthers’ first six games. That was a stunner for those who followed Harper in New Orleans, since interceptions were always admittedly his biggest shortcoming (he had seven in eight years).

Harper has battled inconsistency, though, along with a Panthers defense that ranks 29th in the NFL in defensive efficiency, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Harper said he doesn’t think reuniting with the Saints will feel “really weird” until he returns to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome later this season. For now, it will just be friendly handshakes and a business meeting.

Saints coach Sean Payton usually downplays meetings with former players or coaches since he says they’re so commonplace on a weekly basis. But in this case, he stressed that Harper was “one of the centerpieces” of the Saints’ rise that began in ’06.

“We were just talking in the walk-through [Tuesday], there’s a play where we have [Marques] Colston possibly blocking Harper, running behind Zach [Strief] and Jahri [Evans]. There’s a lot of ’06 draft class in that pile,” Payton said. “He’s a great guy, has been a great player and been a part of all the things that we built. And you miss seeing his parents, who come to every game. So I’m happy for him and really excited to see he’s doing well.”

W2W4: Carolina Panthers

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
The Carolina Panthers (1-2) face the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) at 7:30 p.m. at Heinz Field.

Here are three things to watch for:

1. Consistency: The Panthers have been consistent on offense or defense through the first three preseason games. They've started slowly on both sides. They've been unable to sustain a running game, gaining only 55 yards on 16 carries from DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Not what you want when you're a ball-control team. They've struggled at times to stop the run. Not what you'd expect from the league's second-best defense in 2013. They've allowed 10 sacks and collected only five. Not what you expect from the team that led the league in sacks last season with 60. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, signed as a free agent from Pittsburgh, has one catch for 8 yards. Not what you want when you're replacing the veteran leadership of Steve Smith. It might be asking too much for a significant change with the starters likely not playing more than a quarter, and with quarterback Cam Newton being held out with a fractured rib. But a little bit of consistency would be a good place to end the preseason.

2. Communication: Roman Harper is getting his first start at strong safety after missing the first three preseason games with turf toe. He was signed as a free agent from New Orleans to be a leader in this rebuilt secondary and provide an attitude this group has been lacking. There have been breakdowns in communication during the first three games, resulting in big plays for the opposition that have contributed to the slow starts. With starting defensive ends Greg Hardy (shoulder) and Charles Johnson (hamstring) out, the secondary needs to set the tone for a change.

3. Blocking: The offensive line has allowed too many sacks and opened up too few holes. Injuries to the right side of the line have played a small role. Rookie right guard Trai Turner (groin) is expected to be out for the second straight game, but right tackle Nate Chandler (knee) is back. Chandler lost the left tackle battle to Byron Bell, who still has issues with the bull rush. If he doesn't pick up the pace he may lose the right tackle job to Garry Williams. The Panthers believe in winning from the inside out. The defensive front is solid. The offensive front needs to start setting the tone on the other side before it faces a tough Tampa Bay defense in the Sept. 7 opener. As I've said throughout the offseason, the success of the rebuilt line is the key to the success of this team.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers finally will get a look at their restructured secondary that was a big question mark entering the preseason in Thursday night's preseason finale at Pittsburgh.

Strong safety Roman Harper returned to practice this week for the first time since suffering turf toe after stepping on the foot of tight end Greg Olsen during an Aug. 1 practice in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The two-time Pro Bowler with New Orleans was signed to a two-year, $4.5 million deal to bring stability to a secondary that lost three of four starters -- two in free agency.

[+] EnlargeRoman Harper
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsStrong safety Roman Harper is eager to suit up for the Panthers following his preseason absence dealing with a turf toe injury.
"I definitely think I can help with a sense of attitude, with a sense of leadership," Harper said. "At times we can be better at open-field tackling, doing some different concepts and just kind of understanding our fit."

Coach Ron Rivera has been emphatic that Harper's absence in practice and the first three preseason games wasn't an issue even though the defense has given up some big pass plays. He's reminded that Quintin Mikell started last season's opener at strong safety after signing a week earlier.

He also could have reminded that free safety Mike Mitchell, who went to Pittsburgh in free agency, didn't become a starter until after the secondary was decimated by injuries in Week 2.

But Rivera is glad Harper is back.

"Roman does have a veteran quality to himself," he said. "We're excited to have him around. What is missing is that veteran leadership presence."

Harper is glad he's returning before playing his first regular-season game -- Sept. 7 at Tampa Bay -- as a Panther.

"Not even so much [for getting ready for] Tampa Bay, but more so for myself," he said. "I've got to get back out here and get into shape. I've tried to get in shape as best as I can, but there's nothing like football shape."

Harper won't discuss whether the toe is completely healed, reminding he doesn't discuss injuries. But he admitted being a spectator for more than three weeks with a new team hasn't been easy.

"You come in with a sense of wanting to fit in and do the different things and show your work," Harper said. "When you get injured, that kind of sets you back. Training camp is a time where guys work on things and physically come together as a team.

"For me being gone, I was here but not really out there playing with the guys and going through the wars. It was kind of difficult."

With Harper, Carolina's secondary is set. Thomas DeCoud, a free agent from Atlanta, will start at free safety. Antoine Cason, a free agent from Arizona, will start at one cornerback and returning starter Melvin White will be on the other side.

Harper's return means either Anderson Russell or Robert Lester likely will become expendable when the team shrinks its roster to 53 players. Russell has started the past two preseason games over Lester, who missed the past two practices with an ankle injury.

The big question now is will the new secondary be as solid as the one last season that helped Carolina rank second in the NFL in total defense?

"Communication has been fine," Harper said. "Guys are getting lined up. We've got to get to the huddle calls a little bit faster. But overall, if you look at it on tape, the defense has not played bad."

W2W4: Carolina Panthers

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
The Carolina Panthers (1-1) face the New England Patriots (1-1) at 7:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.

Here are three things to watch for:

1. Timing: It was obvious that quarterback Cam Newton needs more time working with his new receivers after he made his preseason debut in Sunday night's 28-16 victory over Kansas City. He started 1-for-5, missing rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin wide open down the left sideline at one point. The Panthers have increased Newton's reps in practice, but as coach Ron Rivera acknowledged, you can't simulate game speed. Newton will play the first half. It will be his last significant tune-up for the regular season with starters expected to play sparingly -- if at all -- in the final preseason game. He has shown chemistry with Benjamin and his other receivers in practice, but now needs to do that in a game. The Patriots should be a good test. They had two forced fumbles and two interceptions that they turned into 21 points in last week's 42-35 exhibition win over Philadelphia.

2. Time to step up: The Panthers signed free agent wide receiver Tiquan Underwood to a two-year deal after losing their top four receivers from 2013. You don't do that unless you expect him to make the roster. As of now he's on the outside looking in. The top three are Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. If the season started today, because of his return duties, undrafted rookie Philly Brown would be the fourth. Brenton Bersin would be the fifth in the team activated five. Odds are Carolina won't keep more than six receivers on their 53-man roster. Rivera continues to harp that he wants to see one or two outside the top three step up. Underwood is one of those because of his elite speed, something the top three don't have and another reason Brown's stock has risen. That the opponent is New England is a bit ironic because the Patriots released him the night before their Super Bowl loss to the Giants during the 2011 season. Rivera is going to give the young receivers more opportunities. If Underwood doesn't step up, he could be in danger of being cut for the ninth time in his career.

3. Time to start fast: The Carolina defense has started slowly in each of the first two preseason games, giving up big chunks of yardage early. The Panthers were outgained 114-1 at one point during the first quarter, but to their credit gave up only a pair of field goals. Many of those yards were surrendered due to mistakes or communication breakdowns in the secondary. Some of that has to do with a new group of defensive backs learning each other. Melvin White and Antoine Cason appear to have nailed down the starting corner jobs, and Charles Godfrey appears set as the nickelback in his transition from safety. But starting strong safety Roman Harper (turf toe) has yet to play in a preseason game and won't again tonight, leaving unheralded Anderson Russell and Robert Lester fighting for the backup job. Free safety Thomas DeCoud is in his first season with Carolina, so he's still adjusting to the system. Facing Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady should give this group a good idea of where they are.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will play at least the first quarter of Sunday night's preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

How much more depends on how he and a revamped offensive line are performing.

That's a slight twist from Tuesday when coach Ron Rivera said the starters -- not excluding Newton -- would play at least a half and possibly into the third quarter. The plan is to treat this like the third preseason game instead of the second because of a short week afterward.

For Newton, the goal is about 40 snaps. If he gets that in the first half, he's done. If he plays like he practiced on Thursday, he won't have any trouble getting to that.

"He looks good," Rivera said. "He's sharp. Made some really good throws today. He missed a couple near the end of practice, but early on he was really throwing it well."

While Newton was turned loose to run the read option in practice earlier this week, he won't against the Chiefs. Rivera wants to save that for the regular season and not risk a setback.

Rivera hopes Newton resists all temptations to run -- even if pressured. He's skeptical Newton has that much willpower if under a heavy rush.

"He can't help himself," Rivera said. "He loves to compete, and he wants to win. That is one of the things that is of concern, is that he'll get out there, and he may see something -- he may go from a three- to a seven[-step drop] -- and the next thing you know he's out there doing his thing. That's just who he is. He's very competitive. He wants to win."

Newton just wants to do something besides practice. And it's important for him to get as much playing time as he can with his new receivers and line.

"Very valuable," Newton said. "Anytime you get the opportunity to compete, whether you're on the field practicing or actual game action, it's always positive. At the end of the day, coach is always striving for us to excel in competing situations."

Newton also understands the value of being smart. He's talked with others who have come back from injuries.

"The thing that keeps coming back up is keep treating it, keep treating it," he said. "Treat it when it feels good, treat it when it feels bad. Don't be that guy that only treats it when it's nagging. Try to stay ahead of the pain, and that's what I've been doing."

Rivera ruled several players out already. Among them is free safety Roman Harper, who has turf toe.

Harper missed most of training camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina, but Rivera doesn't sound concerned. And don't count on the Panthers bringing back Quintin Mikell, who finished last season as a starter after signing late in camp.

Mikell had offseason foot surgery and told Philly Sports Talk he is all but retired.

Rivera clarified that tight end Greg Olsen did not leave practice on Tuesday because of cramps, but because he was kicked in the calf. Olsen is expected to play against the Chiefs.

Outside linebacker Chase Blackburn tweaked his back and did not practice. Rivera hasn't ruled him out.

"He's a veteran guy, too, so we're not overly concerned about him missing any time," he said. "Hopefully it's just one of those things, and maybe a little bit of veteran time, too."

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A goal-line stand by the first-team defense. An amazing touchdown catch by first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin. No sacks given up by left tackle candidate Byron Bell. A recovered onside kick.

Short of quarterback Cam Newton suiting up and a victory, the Carolina Panthers got about all they could out of Friday night's 20-18 loss to the Buffalo Bills

Here are some other thoughts on the Panthers' first preseason game of the year:
  • Carolina made the right decision sitting Newton, who is still not 100 percent from offseason left ankle surgery. While he was cleared to practice when training camp began, Newton hasn't been cleared to scramble or run the read option. Coach Ron Rivera said that will come in a matter of days. Meanwhile, it wasn't worth risking a setback with a new offensive line against a Buffalo defense that sacked Newton six times last season in Week 2.
  • Much was made during the offseason of the Panthers releasing the franchise's all-time leading receiver, Steve Smith. If Benjamin (6-5, 240) keeps making plays like his 29-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter he will silence the critics fast. The 28th pick of the draft has impressed throughout camp with his ability to make the high, acrobatic catch. On this play he stumbled at the goal line, gathered himself as he was going to the ground and made a diving catch for the score. Guess he can go high and low.
  • Bell started and allowed no sacks, but it would be premature to say he won the job to replace the retired Jordan Gross. He was pushed into the quarterback a couple of times and didn't exactly open up running room. Nate Chandler, also in the mix for the job, allowed a sack that turned into a fumble in the second quarter playing right tackle. It wouldn't surprise if he got the start on the left side next weekend against Kansas City. The biggest concern on the line is depth. The backups were so pitiful in the second quarter that the starters -- minus Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil -- returned.
  • In his first game after moving from safety to nickel corner, Charles Godfrey was beaten early for a 32-yard catch. He wasn't in the same time zone. But for the most part this unit, playing without starting free safety Roman Harper (toe), looked adequate as the Panthers attempt to replace three of four starters. Backup cornerback Josh Norman, the king of Carolina's preseasons when it comes to picks, had an interception in the end zone. This is a make-or-break year for him.
  • With placekicker Graham Gano (lower back) out, backup punter Jordan Gay missed the 33-yard PAT after Benjamin's touchdown.
  • At one point in the third quarter, Tavarres King made three straight catches, albeit one was called back for holding. His stock is rising.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams have an extensive history of working together. Their defensive philosophies are similar and, now that they are reunited in St. Louis, the scheme isn't expected to change much at its core.

Sure, there will be tweaks here and there, but for the most part, the roles of the 11 defenders will be the same. But there is one player on the defense who figures to have much more on his plate in 2014 if Williams' history is any indication.

Second-year safety T.J. McDonald stepped into a starting role immediately as a rookie and Fisher clearly trusted him to take on a lot of responsibility in the defense. That role will almost certainly expand for McDonald in Year 2.

[+] EnlargeT.J. McDonald
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceSafety T.J. McDonald figures to be a useful piece in coordinator Gregg Williams' scheme for the Rams.
“When T.J. got going early in the season before the injury, you didn’t look at T.J. and see a rookie," Fisher said. "You saw someone that played like an experienced player. With that being said, Year 2 is completely different. He understands, he’s in great shape right now. Gregg’s going to be able to do a lot of things with him on defense.”

For evidence of how that might manifest itself, one need only to look at how Williams has used big, athletic safeties in his recent past. While serving as the defensive coordinator in New Orleans, Williams was able to take veteran safety Roman Harper and turn him into a two-time Pro Bowler. He did so by using the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Harper like a sort of safety Swiss Army Knife.

Harper spent plenty of time in the box, blitzing frequently and essentially serving as a de facto fourth linebacker. In three years with Williams as his coordinator, Harper posted 287 tackles, 12 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and 16 run stuffs.

After learning of Williams' hiring, McDonald, the son of six-time All Pro safety Tim McDonald, quickly took to studying how Williams had deployed his safeties in the past. He immediately liked what he saw and began envisioning himself doing many of the things Harper once did.

"That is me," McDonald said. "I feel like that fits my game pretty well and it is me right now. Once I get a grip on it and everything comes together, I’m confident I’ll be able to make plays."

At 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, McDonald actually cuts a more imposing figure than Harper, but it's easy to see how he could fit into a similar role. While McDonald has flashed some solid cover skills, he's probably best used closer to the line of scrimmage, especially so long as the smaller and speedier Rodney McLeod is playing more of a center field spot on the back end.

The Rams plugged McDonald into the 2013 starting lineup right away, a move that belied his third-round draft status and served as clear evidence of his football acumen. After starting the first four games of the season, McDonald suffered a fracture in his right leg against San Francisco on Sept. 26 but didn't need surgery and was placed on injured reserve with the "designated to return" label.

McDonald returned to the lineup on Nov. 24 against Chicago and played in the final six games. A solid start was interrupted and McDonald struggled to get back on track upon his return.

"It was hard," McDonald said. "Especially having to sit out those eight weeks. That was tough not being able to play with the guys. Coming back, I was trying to get better every week but not just mentally, but also physically and making sure I was getting back to 100 percent. I was just happy I got to play."

For what it's worth, McDonald spent his offseason back home in California, working out at USC with some former teammates. He says he's back at full strength during these organized team activities and has his eye on making up for the time he lost in his rookie season.

"There’s definitely ways that I wish I would have done some things better," McDonald said. "Based off the injury, it made things a little bit difficult. But I came back out there, put myself in position to make some plays and as a rookie you are always going to have things you want to improve on. For me, I am just focusing on a lot of those things and coming out this year hoping I can capitalize on everything I learned last year."
The newest member of the Carolina Panthers feels the same way about wide receiver Steve Smith not being on the roster as many of the team's followers.

"You know what, it's mind blowing,'' safety Roman Harper said on Tuesday after officially signing his two-year deal worth $4.5 million. "When you think of the Carolina Panthers, you think of that guy.''

Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver, was released last Thursday after 13 years with Carolina. He signed with the Baltimore Ravens on Friday, the day before Harper agreed to terms with Carolina.

"I would love to play with that guy because I know how much he competes, I know how great of a player he is,'' Harper said. "We have mutual respect of each other. We've had our run-ins, but when you play twice a year you're going to have those.

"He will be missed around here I'm sure.''

Carolina fans will remember Harper for his late hit on Smith after a touchdown in a 2011 game. Harper was fined $15,000, and at the time said it was worth it.

Now Harper has a chance to be remembered for more at Carolina. The 31-year-old expects to play strong safety, which makes sense with free safety Charles Godfrey coming off an Achilles injury.

A healthy Godfrey makes the loss of Mike Mitchell in free agency sting a bit less.

Harper will wear No. 41, the number starting cornerback Captain Munnerlyn wore before he was lost to the Minnesota Vikings in free agency.

Carolina still needs to find a replacement there. New York Giants free agent Terrell Thomas could be a possibility.

Harper won't help replace Smith or any of the team's top four receivers from last season that are now gone. But he could be a nice addition to a defense ranked second in the NFL a year ago.

His 17 sacks since 2006 are more than any other defensive back in the NFL during that time frame.

"They don't need a lot of work,'' Harper said of the defense. "They don't need a lot of help. I'm just here to add to them.''

Free-agency review: Panthers

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
Most significant signing: TBA. So far the most significant thing the Carolina Panthers have done in free agency is cut their all-time leading receiver, Steve Smith, who wasn't a free agent until he was released. Their only signing of any significance is former New Orleans safety Roman Harper, a replacement for free safety Mike Mitchell. But his signing is borderline in the significance column. Significant will come when Carolina finally signs a wide receiver, since at the moment quarterback Cam Newton has none with an NFL catch on the roster.

Most significant loss: Now this I can talk about, since that's what free agency has been all about for Carolina. The biggest loss among Carolina's free agents was Mitchell. The Panthers wanted to keep him, but Pittsburgh wanted him more (five years, $25 million). There have been two big losses among free agents from other teams that Carolina offered. The first was Cincinnati left tackle Anthony Collins, who went to NFC South rival Tampa Bay. The other was New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who went to Indianapolis. Of the two, I'll say Collins was the biggest loss because it will be tougher to replace the retired Jordan Gross than a receiver.

Biggest surprise: After the release of Smith, which I still believe was a mistake, nothing has been a huge surprise. It's not big, but not finding a way to re-sign No. 2 receiver Brandon LaFell (Patriots) or No. 3 Ted Ginn Jr. (Cardinals) to give Newton at least some sort of continuity from last season was at least mildly interesting. But maybe this was for the best. As I said repeatedly last season, LaFell was a disappointment as the No. 2. He was a No. 3 at best, although with Tom Brady now throwing to him, that could change. With no bona fide No. 1 available, maybe Carolina is thinking three bona fide No. 2s and a flashy draft pick will be better than a 1, 2 and 3.

What's next? General manager Dave Gettleman said all along he was looking for bargains in free agency, so letting the first wave pass with no fanfare doesn't come as a surprise. I suspected all along the Panthers would wait for the second and third wave to fill out their roster. They waited eight days before signing the majority of their free agents a year ago. Right now, they're targeting wide receivers. Pittsburgh's Jerricho Cotchery arrived for a visit Monday. They had interest in Green Bay's James Jones until he signed with Oakland late Monday afternoon. Carolina also is looking for a starting cornerback. A player like Arizona's Antoine Cason, who played for Carolina coach Ron Rivera at San Diego, could draw interest.
Now that the fumes from the jet that took wide receiver Steve Smith to Baltimore and beyond have dissipated, what's next for the Carolina Panthers?

They still need help at wide receiver with none of their top four from 2013 under contract since Smith was released on Thursday. They still need help at cornerback and safety.

And they still need help at offensive tackle, although most of those in free agency that could help are long gone.

But there is still talent out there to be had as we get past the first wave of free agency. Here are a few players who might be a good fit:

Wide receivers
  • Nicks
    Hakeem Nicks: The former member of the New York Giants remains a priority for Carolina. He was in Indianapolis on Friday, but he also has expressed an interest in Carolina and San Diego. San Francisco reportedly is interested as well. This might take some time to sort, and the Panthers appear willing to wait to see what the market sets for the former Independence (Charlotte) High standout. That he already has a relationship with general manager Dave Gettleman, who spent most of his career with the Giants before last season, doesn't hurt.
  • James Jones: He had a modest 59 catches for 817 yards and three touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers last season, but the year before he had 64 catches for an amazing 14 touchdowns. Don't think for a second the Panthers don't have their eye on him.
  • Emmanuel Sanders: He had 67 catches for 740 yards and six touchdowns at Pittsburgh last season. In his fourth year out of Southern Mississippi, this 5-foot-11, 186-pounder also could be a bargain. He was with the Chiefs on Friday, and he reportedly has visited Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. Has the speed to replace Ted Ginn Jr.
  • Tillman
    Charles "Peanut" Tillman: Chicago wants him back, and he got out of Tampa Bay without a deal. He's 33, but word has it Panthers coach Ron Rivera loves him. Rivera coached Tillman as the defensive coordinator with the Bears from 2004-2006. At 6-2, 198, there has even been speculation he could move to safety. Carolina secondary coach Steve Wilks also coached Tillman in Chicago from 2006-2008.
  • Asante Samuel: Before spending the past two seasons with Atlanta, he played four seasons at Philadelphia, where Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott overlapped as the secondary coach and then defensive coordinator. And remember, both Samuel and Tillman are the same age as Drayton Florence, who was a key contributor last season for Carolina.
  • Antoine Cason: This could be a darkhorse to keep an eye on. He didn't do much at Arizona last season, but prior to that he played five seasons for the San Diego Chargers, where Rivera and Wilks coached him. A first-round pick in 2008, he has 14 career interceptions.
  • Roman Harper: The Panthers already have brought in the former New Orleans Saints strong safety. He's 31, but he's a two-time Pro Bowler who would bring experience as Quintin Mikell did last season. Mikell, also 33, remains available as well.

Safety market thins for Redskins

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
The Washington Redskins need to find two starting safeties, which could be tougher after the first day of free agency. There is always the draft, but they will still need to add a veteran -- or two -- capable of starting. They could always re-sign Reed Doughty as a backup/special-teamer. Or perhaps bring back Brandon Meriweather on a one-year deal.

Here are six safeties of note still on the market:

Chris Clemons: Miami is letting him walk and signed bad-kneed Louis Delmas. Part of the problem is that Clemons wasn’t viewed as a free safety, and it sounds as if that is what the Dolphins wanted. The Redskins could use him more in the box. He’d be an upgrade.

Thomas DeCoud: Atlanta, which needs secondary help, cut DeCoud after a rough 2013 season. He’s also probably best in the box.

Mike Adams: Again, Denver struggled in the secondary and decided to let him leave, signing T.J. Ward instead. Adams is rather average.

Nate Allen: Philadelphia selected him with the second-round pick obtained in the Donovan McNabb trade with Washington. The Eagles let Allen walk and signed Malcolm Jenkins. I can’t imagine Allen is the answer. He’s better against the run.

Roman Harper: He’s 31 and coming off a knee injury that cost him nearly half the season. That is a tough combination. But he’s a two-time Pro Bowler best used in the box. Here is what ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett had to say about him in a recent article: “I think Harper still has some gas left in the tank and should land somewhere as either a starter or a rotational guy. He’ll fit best as a true strong safety who plays closer to the box in run support, occasionally blitzing and covering tight ends in short space. If used the right way, I still see Harper as an asset. And his experience and leadership will only enhance his value.”

Ryan Clark: If the Redskins had a young free safety worthy of grooming, I’d consider Clark as a mentor. But he’s 35 and the Redskins don’t have that player (I don’t view Bacarri Rambo as that guy).

Louis Delmas visits Saints

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
Veteran safety Louis Delmas has visited with the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints could be in the market for a safety because Malcolm Jenkins can become a free agent and Roman Harper previously was released. Backup Rafael Bush is scheduled to become a restricted free agent.

Delmas was a second-round pick by Detroit in 2009 and has spent his entire career with the Lions. Although free agency doesn’t start until mid-March, Delmas can be signed at any time because he was released by Detroit.
The New Orleans Saints have 13 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 11, plus the three players they released last week. Here’s a breakdown on safety Roman Harper:

Position: S

Age: 31

Height: 6-1

Weight: 200

Scouting report: Harper is a two-time Pro Bowler who was a cornerstone of the Saints’ defense for most of the past eight years at strong safety. But he became more of a part-time player last season and was released last week -- in large part because he was due $3.15 million in salary and bonuses.

Harper, who was drafted in the second round out of Alabama in 2006, made his mark as an attacking blitzer and run stuffer. His 17 sacks are the most in the NFL by any defensive back since 2006. He also has 14 forced fumbles, which puts him among the top 10 for defensive backs during that span. He made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2010.

Harper has struggled at times in deep pass coverage. And he missed seven games in the middle of last season with a knee injury. But he finished strong -- playing especially well in the playoff loss at Seattle -- and he could still be an impact player if used to his strengths.

Projection: I think Harper still has some gas left in the tank and should land somewhere as either a starter or a rotational guy. He’ll fit best as a true strong safety who plays closer to the box in run support, occasionally blitzing and covering tight ends in short space. If used the right way, I still see Harper as an asset. And his experience and leadership will only enhance his value.

Cowboys won't rush roster moves

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
INDIANAPOLIS -- When will the Dallas Cowboys start making decisions on the future of players?

“Til it’s time to get under the cap,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

Teams do not need to be compliant with the salary cap until March 11, but some teams have already started cutting players to create cap savings, like the Detroit Lions did last week in cutting Louis Delmas and Nate Burleson and the New Orleans Saints with Will Smith, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer.

In addition to using the time at this week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis to look at draft prospects, the Cowboys will use the time to discuss the futures of players like DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin and how they want to pare their salary cap by $20 million-$25 million before the first day of the league year.

Several others could have their contracts restructured, like Tony Romo, Sean Lee, Jason Witten, and others could be cut, like Justin Durant, to make room.

“We continue to look at them and we continue to look at what’s available out there, what’s going to be available out there, and we’re looking at a lot of tape with [assistant director of player personnel] Will [McClay] and the pro guys are looking at the tape on all those guys and what’s likely to be available in the draft,” Jones said. “All these things affect the decision.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Since Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said the team would like to address the safety position before the draft -- in other words, during free agency -- he couldn't be certain what the market would look like.

He still can't. But as other teams clear roster spots (and cap space) and with the window open for using franchise and transition tags now open, there is more clarity every day.

Two of the elite safeties due for free agency, Cleveland's T.J. Ward and Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, could be tagged. That would not only take them off the market, it would have a domino effect on the players who do hit free agency. A guy like Miami's Chris Clemons might command more money than he would if Ward and Byrd were in the market.

And then there's San Francisco's Donte Whitner. The 49ers want him back, but it might be tougher to negotiate a new deal without using a tag on him if he is by far the best safety available.

Judging by Roseman's comments, he isn't likely to get in a mad bidding war for the hot commodity. The Eagles' recent approach has been to look for value among players in the second tier, after the market settles a little bit.

In that sense, the picture has improved for the Eagles in recent days. New Orleans released Roman Harper and Detroit parted ways with Louis Delmas late last week. Whether they are good fits in Philadelphia or not, they add to the pool of available talent and create more options.

Delmas is an interesting possibility. He is only 27, same as Ward and Byrd. He is a relatively physical player who has had some knee trouble. That could actually help keep his asking price down, which might make him that much more appealing to the Eagles.

Delmas was taken one pick ahead of Patrick Chung in the 2009 draft. But then, the Eagles took Nate Allen one pick ahead of Ward in the 2010 draft.

Allen and Chung finished the season as the Eagles' starting safeties. Rookie Earl Wolff had taken Chung's starting job before injuring his knee in Green Bay in October.

Allen will be an unrestricted free agent, as will safeties/special-teamers Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson. With the Eagles lukewarm on Chung, there could be as many as four roster spots open for safeties.

Roseman said recently that he doesn't want to go into the draft with a gaping hole on his roster. That, he said, leads to mistakes as teams reach for a position of need. So it is likely the Eagles will look to add safeties in free agency. The market is shaping up.



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