In news that’s not at all surprising, the Saints have had a preliminary discussion with Rafael Bush‘s camp about prolonging the safety’s stay in New Orleans, a league source said Tuesday.
The Saints have two options to retain Bush, a restricted free agent: They can tender him by March 11, which would give them the right to match any offer he might get from other teams; or they could sign him to a long-term deal. The lowest tender Bush could be offered would be about $1.3 million, the source said.
New Orleans has ruled out tendering one of its restricted free agents, defensive lineman Tom Johnson, an NFL source told The Advocate recently.
In his third season playing in the NFL and his second year with the Saints, Bush was credited by the team with 45 tackles (29 of which were solo), six pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery over 13 games and six starts. He also tacked on four special-teams stops.
He handled an increased workload well early in the season when safeties Malcolm Jenkins (an unrestricted free agent) and Roman Harper (who’s been released) were injured.
Bush also performed well after rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro sustained a season-ending ankle fracture in Week 16. And, if New Orleans is unable to keep Jenkins, many would say he’s the heir apparent to the starting job at free safety.
New Orleans has recently spoken with a number of its players who are due to hit unrestricted or restricted free agency on March 11 about bringing them back, including tackle Zach Strief, wide receiver Robert Meachem and linebacker Parys Haralson, among others. The Saints have had those early discussions while carrying an estimated salary-cap figure of $125 million.
Recent media reports have projected the 2014 cap could be about $132 million, if not more. The main thing the Saints hope to accomplish with any available cap space they’ll have as free agency arrives is to hang on to All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, who is at the end of the deal he accepted from New Orleans as a rookie.
The Saints could sign Graham to a new long-term contract; but if that doesn’t materialize, they could apply the franchise tag on him. Many assume Graham — who spent most of his time in 2013 lining up out wide for the Saints — will file a grievance to be classified as a receiver and not as a tight end for the purposes of the franchise tag. A franchise tag is likely to be worth about $5 million more for a wide receiver than for a tight end.
Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped the Saints from probing the possibility of retaining players who’ve manned valuable roles for New Orleans but could get attention from other teams, and Bush is no exception.
In one of his final news conferences of the year, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan lauded Bush as “an ascending football player.”