The New Orleans Saints on Monday matched the two-year, $4.5 million offer the Atlanta Falcons made to restricted free-agent safety Rafael Bush on Thursday.
An NFL source confirmed the report to The Advocate about a minute before the player did the same with a reporter via an exchange on Twitter. The move then appeared on the league’s official transaction wire.
Bush earlier called attention to the situation by tweeting, “I’m still a saint yep.”
Bush signed the offer sheet from the NFC South rival Falcons as they were searching for someone to replace Thomas DeCoud, a starting safety for them since 2009 who was released in February. The Saints had until Tuesday to match the offer if they wanted to retain Bush and prevent him from leaving for no compensation.
The Saints in March extended Bush a minimum $1.4 million, one-year contract tender, which gave them the right to match any offers from other teams the safety might consider.
Last year, Bush was credited by the Saints with 45 tackles (29 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 as the Saints — whose defense was ranked No. 4 overall and second against the pass — won 12 of their 18 games and made it to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
Bush handled an increased workload well early in the season when safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper (neither of whom are on the team anymore) were injured.
The analytics website Pro Football Focus gave Bush the 24th-highest grade among NFL safeties in 2013 and rated him as the Saints’ best player at the position.
Bush’s career began in Atlanta as an undrafted free agent in 2010, and he was on the Falcons practice squad until Denver signed him away in 2011. He played sparingly for the Broncos, who waived him at the end of August 2012. New Orleans soon claimed him.
Bush, who played at South Carolina State, played in all 16 games for the Saints in 2012 and led the special teams with 15 tackles and a fumble recovery. His role on defense initially grew after Jenkins suffered a hamstring injury and landed on injured reserve: Bush had an interception, which he returned 40 yards; forced a fumble; and recovered another fumble.
Bush will stay with a position group that includes Jairus Byrd, who was acquired in March in free agency and whose 22 career interceptions are the most among players at his position since he entered the league in 2009; and Kenny Vaccaro, a 2013 first-round pick who had an excellent rookie season.
There is also safety Marcus Ball, who signed from the Canadian Football League earlier this week. The Saints on Friday reached terms with 12-time Pro Bowl defensive back Champ Bailey, who had been a free agent since Denver released him in March.
It had been speculated that Bailey, who turns 36 in June, might play as a cornerback-safety hybrid.
Other Saints defensive backs are Corey White, Patrick Robinson, Rod Sweeting and Trevin Wade.