METAIRIE, La. -- When Patrick Robinson got demoted from the starting lineup early in his final year with the New Orleans Saints in 2014, coach Sean Payton called the former first-round draft pick into his office. He shared with him a list of fellow NFL cornerbacks who came back from demotions and finally found success later in their careers.
If Payton replenished that list today, Robinson’s name would be at the top.
The 30-year-old cornerback has had his best two seasons since leaving New Orleans -- first in 2015 with the San Diego Chargers, then last year with the Philadelphia Eagles, which he capped by returning an interception for a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game en route to his first Super Bowl ring.
“To be honest [the biggest difference for me was] not doing too much thinking,” said Robinson, who said improving the mental part of his game was even bigger than realizing he fits best as a nickel specialist in slot coverage.
“When I was on the field [for the Saints], I was doing a lot of thinking, a lot of ‘what-ifs’ and stuff like that,” Robinson said during a teleconference with the New Orleans media on Monday. “Instead, now I’m just playing football and not thinking about anything else but just playing football. That’s the biggest difference.”
Robinson, who was drafted with the 32nd pick out of Florida State after the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2010, admittedly wrestled with some confidence issues during his roller-coaster, five-year stint in New Orleans.
His best year came as the Saints’ No. 3 corner in 2011. His worst came as a full-time starter in 2012. Then he suffered a major knee injury in 2013. In 2014, Robinson did bounce back from those early struggles to play well as a nickel corner and part-time starter -- but a change of scenery seemed like an obvious “win-win” once he became a free agent in 2015.
Sure enough, Robinson immediately experienced success after signing with the Chargers, starting 10 games for them. He battled injuries and some inconsistency again with the Indianapolis Colts in 2016 before thriving as the Eagles’ nickelback in 2017.
So, I asked Robinson if he was concerned about coming back to New Orleans after the change of scenery had served him so well.
“Really, that did make it a little hard to come back -- me leaving, then getting the success I was looking for. That did make it a little harder to come back,” Robinson said. “But I figured since I know exactly what it takes, then it shouldn’t be a problem coming back and doing the same thing I’ve been doing the last couple of years.”
Robinson, who admitted the veterans were tough on him when he joined a veteran group of Super Bowl champions in New Orleans, said it’s going to be “kind of weird” coming back now as “one of the vets.”
He also said it will be weird to see his former position coach, Dennis Allen, as the defensive coordinator now.
But Robinson said the decision was a pretty easy one -- from both a business standpoint and personal standpoint -- after the Saints offered him a four-year, $20 million deal.
“Being here in New Orleans, my wife loves it and my kids love it, so that kind of helped the decision, also,” Robinson said. “I just see it as me coming back home and having that opportunity to win a ring. That’s how I’m trying to look at it, to be honest.”
Robinson said he hopes his Super Bowl-winning experience in Philly can help him pass on some valuable, firsthand knowledge to the Saints’ young secondary, which was one of the biggest reasons why the Saints were one play away from being in the NFC Championship Game last year.
“I think the sky’s the limit with these young guys,” Robinson said of a group that includes 2017 breakout rookies Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams and two-year veterans Ken Crawley and Vonn Bell. “That’s something that I wanted to be a part of, especially so late in my career. I definitely want to be a part of a group that’s hungry, with good character and at the same time we’re winning games.”