The New Orleans Saints’ first gamble didn’t pay off. They hoped to retain restricted-free-agent safety Rafael Bush at a discount rate of $1.4 million.
But then the division-rival Atlanta Falcons swooped in and tried to steal Bush away from them. And that was a risk the Saints weren’t willing to take.
The Saints matched Atlanta’s offer for Bush (reportedly worth up to $4.5 million over two years). Even though the Saints are tight on salary-cap space, they figured losing Bush to the Falcons was the kind of double whammy they couldn’t afford.
Bush, 26, is a player on the rise. And he was starting to establish himself as a bruising hitter in the open field by the end of last season.
Now New Orleans is suddenly loaded with depth in the secondary -- and the Falcons are still searching for a starting safety.
As for Bush, he admitted to The Advocate’s Ramon Antonio Vargas that he was attracted to the opportunity in Atlanta, but only because the Falcons were offering more money and a better opportunity for a starting job.
Now that the Saints stepped up and showed him how much they value him, he insisted he’s still fired up about staying in NOLA – even if it’s in a No. 3 safety role alongside starters Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro.
“This team is going to make some big noise. I’m excited,” said Bush, who told The Advocate that he’s glad the offer sheet affair is done so he can focus again on being the player Saints coaches want him to be.
Bush also said he was prepared for some backlash from the passionate Saints’ fan base since he flirted with the enemy. But Bush said he was making the best decision for himself and his family.
“It’s never personal,” Bush said. “Players are looking for the well-being of their families.”
Saints fans shouldn’t be too hard on Bush. He couldn’t pass up the chance to virtually double his annual salary. And he earned this salary through his impressive play on both defense and special teams over the past two years.
The Saints probably should have just gone ahead and tendered Bush at a higher level in the first place (a one-year, $2.2 million offer would have required a team to give up a second-round draft choice to steal him away).
But the Saints didn’t really lose money in the deal, since that’s now Bush’s average salary over two years.
As for how they can find the cap space to fit Bush and recently-signed cornerback Champ Bailey, they can make it work. It’s possible they won’t even have to release or restructure any deals to make them both fit (depending on how the contracts are structured).
But if they do have to make another move, they will. As we’ve chronicled many times this offseason, the Saints have been more willing than any team in the NFL to push their cap costs into future years. The Saints will eventually have to pay those bills, but they figure they can catch up whenever quarterback Drew Brees retires.