It’d be a convenient narrative to say Roman Harper joined the Panthers in free agency to get two opportunities every season to exact revenge on the Saints, who released him last month and are one of Carolina’s NFC South rivals.
But Harper insists what was most attractive about signing off on a two-year deal with Carolina recently was a front seven that includes linebacker Luke Kuechly (the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year), linebacker Thomas Davis (the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Month in November), Greg Hardy (a 2013 Pro Bowler) and Charles Johnson (among the league’s sack leaders with 11).
“Playing with a front seven like this is going to make it a lot easier to go out there and play at a high level,” Harper said Tuesday, via the Panthers’ team website. “They play fast and tackle extremely well, and those are qualities that I can bring.”
It also didn’t hurt that he rooted for Carolina growing up. In fact, the first NFL jersey he owned was ex-Panthers running back Tim Biakabutuka’s.
“The colors are good,” Harper said, according to Carolina’s website. “I look good in black.”
A second-round pick out of Alabama in 2006 for New Orleans, Harper’s 528 solo tackles are fifth all-time for the Saints and the most among players during the coach Sean Payton era.
He recorded 17 sacks and had a team-high seven of those in 2011 and holds the distinction of being the only Saints defensive back to be selected to more than one Pro Bowl (he was chosen for two). He recovered three fumbles and picked off seven passes for the Black and Gold.
However, Harper was due more than $3.1 million in salary and bonuses in 2014, and the Saints released him in February.
In 2013, when the Saints won 12 of the 18 games they played and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs, Harper sat out seven games with a knee injury in the middle of the campaign.
He was less productive during the year than fellow safeties Malcolm Jenkins (now with Philadelphia) and rookie Kenny Vaccaro and about equal numbers-wise with the younger, promising Rafael Bush. He had gotten pricey for the role he manned, though he will not be forgotten for the hand he had in winning the franchise’s lone Super Bowl at the end of the 2009 season, some four years after Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans.
Before leaving New Orleans, Harper had said he was proud to be part of a defense that improved from 32nd place in 2012 to fourth this past year, a turnaround that was unprecedented since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Now, he’ll be suiting up for a Panthers defense that was No. 2 overall and helped bring the NFC South title to Carolina in 2013.
“It will be an easy transition,” Harper said to his new team’s website. “I’m very excited about the opportunity to be here and help this team to continue to progress the way they have … .”