Don’t blame Rafael Bush for positioning himself to get a deserved reward: Commentary

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints free safety Rafael Bush (25) watches the final minutes of the 23-15 loss in a NFL NFC divisional football playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks at Century Link Field in Seattle, Wash. Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON– New Orleans Saints free safety Rafael Bush (25) watches the final minutes of the 23-15 loss in a NFL NFC divisional football playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks at Century Link Field in Seattle, Wash. Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014.

With his play last season, Rafael Bush earned a contract that was for more than one year and $1.4 million. And it appears the Saints’ restricted free-agent safety is going to get it, whether it’s from New Orleans or its archenemy, the Atlanta Falcons.

Last month, the Saints handed Bush a minimum $1.4 million, one-year contract tender that ensured they’d have the option to match any offers from other NFL teams the safety might consider. Some pundits optimistically speculated that might be a high enough price to discourage teams from whipping up an offer sheet for Bush.

However, as the pro football world learned Thursday, it wasn’t. Having cut Thomas DeCoud (their starting safety since 2009) in March, the Falcons were in need of a possible replacement, and they handed Bush an offer sheet.

He signed it. Now the Saints have until April 8 to match the offer. The details of the Falcons’ offer weren’t disclosed, but it’s almost certainly for more money and more time than New Orleans’ tender.

Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis was tight-lipped about his front office’s intentions with Bush.

“We received the offer sheet and will make a decision before (April 8),” he wrote in an email to The Advocate.

No one can blame the Falcons for trying to poach Bush, who they brought into the NFL as an undrafted free agent and put on their practice squad in 2010. No one can blame the Falcons for at least forcing their NFC South rivals — who were about $2.2 million under the 2014 salary cap of $133 million — to spend more than they wanted to on Bush.

If the Saints opt to let Bush leave, it wouldn’t be because they’d get something in return (they won’t, because the tender was the minimum one). It also won’t be because they don’t value him.

In 2013, his second year with the Saints, Bush was credited with 45 tackles (29 of which were solo), six pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery over 13 games and six starts. He also had four stops on special teams as the Saints won 12 of their 18 games and made it to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
When safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper (neither of whom are with the Saints anymore) missed games with injuries, Bush more than adequately kept the fort. The analytics website Pro Football Focus gave Bush the 24th-highest grade among NFL safeties in 2013 and rated him the Saints’ best player at the position.

But it goes well beyond his numbers and PFF grade, or the fact that the Saints at the moment have only three safeties under contract: Jairus Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowler acquired in free agency; 2013 first-round draft pick Kenny Vaccaro, who excelled in his rookie year; and Marcus Ball, signed Thursday from the Canadian Football League.

Bush is capable of doling out thunderous hits to opponents, even when he’s playing in some of the most difficult territories in the NFL.

In a last-minute Week 6 loss at New England, where the Patriots had won 20 of their 21 games in October heading into the contest, Bush hammered Danny Amendola when the wideout took the ball on a reverse and tried to run around the left end.

Amendola lost consciousness, left the game and was scratched from the next week’s contest. Not celebrating the injury here, but the fierceness of Bush’s hit left countless observers in awe.

Another example: During the divisional playoff defeat in Seattle, where the home team has lost once since 2012 and the Saints had been drubbed 34-7 in December, Bush set his aim on Percy Harvin, who was trying to catch a deep pass on the Seahawks’ opening possession. Bush barreled into Harvin; the pass fell incomplete; and officials whistled the safety for a hit on a defenseless receiver — a penalty many did not agree with.

Harvin left the game, was examined for a concussion and returned before he was knocked out of the contest for good on a later play. Again, not reveling in Harvin’s injuries, but Bush — who was fined — quickly assuaged doubts at the time about whether New Orleans could match the vaunted Seattle secondary’s physicality.

So, as much as you can’t blame the cap-strapped Saints or the safety-starved Falcons in this drama, you can’t fault Bush for signing Atlanta’s offer sheet.

He’s merely positioned himself to get what was coming to him — from one team or another.