Veteran safety Roman Harper to return to New Orleans Saints, agency says _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and Carolina Panthers strong safety Roman Harper (41) hug after the game Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Carolina won 41-38.

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Roman Harper is heading back to where it began.

The veteran safety has agreed to return to New Orleans, where he played his first eight seasons, according to his agency. Harper spent the last two seasons playing for the Carolina Panthers.

A former second-round pick, Harper made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2010. The Saints neglected to re-sign Harper following the 2013 season after selecting Kenny Vaccaro in the first round of the previous draft.

The 33-year-old strong safety will likely serve in a reserve role behind Vaccaro, Jairus Byrd and second-round pick Vonn Bell. And his greatest asset might be his leadership.

The Saints often lamented the lack of leadership during the 2014 season, which was created by the likes of Malcolm Jenkins, Harper and Jabari Greer leaving the team. Bringing Harper back will bring a veteran voice to the secondary and potentially help with the development of Bell.

He also will have to win a roster spot. The aforementioned safeties are all likely locks to make the team, which will leave Harper trying to beat out some of the other guys on the roster. New Orleans is familiar with what Harper can bring to the field and locker room, but he will have to prove that he has something left.

Harper was often lauded in Carolina for the leadership he brought to the meeting room, and his teammates referred to him as the “uncle” of the defense. During the lead up to the Super Bowl, a game the Panthers lost to the Broncos, Carolina safety Kurt Coleman told The Advocate that the team wouldn’t be in the game without Harper’s leadership.

Some of the other players credited him with providing a calming presence ahead of the big game and said he helped some of the younger players learn how to win after helping the Saints to a Super Bowl victory in 2009.

“It brings a guy who stays level when the excitement’s at an all-time high, letting us know that there’s more to do,” safety Tre Boston told The Advocate. “It gives you a guy that pretty much lays out the blueprint to how we can do this. He’s seen this story before.”

New Orleans’ has since added some leadership to the secondary. Byrd is a veteran player, and Vaccaro is now entering his fourth season. Cornerback Keenan Lewis also has seven seasons under his belt. But the secondary is stocked with several key young players entering the first or second season, including Bell and cornerbacks Delvin Breaux, P.J. Williams and Damian Swann.

Having Harper around to help guide those players could only help.

Another aspect of this move is that it could signal a return to more three-safety sets for the defense. The defense has been playing around with the looks during organized team activities with Vaccaro, Bell and Byrd all on the field at the same time.

This package was a big part of the defense in 2013 when it finished as one of the top units in the league. Harper, of course, was part of that team and possesses the ability to play in the box and at times serve in a role that resembles what a linebacker would be asked to do.

It’s doubtful that Harper would be asked to log major snaps if he returns. He would likely serve in more of a reserve role and be part of specific packages. He could also spell Vaccaro when he needs to come off the field.

But what was old is now new again in New Orleans. And in a specific role, both on and off the field, Harper could provide some value to this young defense.