Saints safety Roman Harper's mission: 'Get this city buzzing again'

METAIRIE, La. -- Roman Harper said it wasn’t personal when the New Orleans Saints let him go two years ago and he signed with the rival Carolina Panthers.

But coming back to New Orleans this week? That was kind of personal.

Harper said the idea started to germinate two months ago when he and dozens of former teammates and coaches reunited for Will Smith’s funeral. Although it was a tragic event, Harper is one of many who said it reminded all of them what a special bond they have together.

“It was a unique opportunity where nobody has gloves on, where we’re all in this thing together and all loving on each other and being there for each other ... it puts life in perspective,” Harper said. “And you’re sitting there talking and you understand that there is no bad blood. And that I still love you guys with my all, and I look at you as my family.”

“You don’t let business get in the way of relationships,” Harper added. “The friendships that I make in this game are gonna last me a lifetime.”

That’s not the only reason why Harper is back, though.

As he joked, most guys come back and sign one-day contracts, but he gets a whole year. That's because the Saints believe Harper can help them on and off the field.

Saints coach Sean Payton said he envisions Harper playing about 20-25 snaps a game in three-safety sets -- closer to the line of scrimmage, where he has always thrived. He said Harper is “still a really good force player” as well as “extremely smart” and a “calming influence when he’s in there.” Harper also volunteered that he would be willing to play special teams for the first time in about eight years.

Harper, 33, already was rotating in with the first-string defense during organized team activities practices this week -- and he came up with a big pass breakup against Drew Brees on a third-and-10 play in a two-minute simulation.

“Obviously I’ve got too much respect for Roman to go through the mechanics of this and then, all of a sudden he’s gonna play until training camp ends and then [we] make a decision to release him,” Payton said. “So to bring in someone like that who has meant as much as he has to our program, there was a lot of thought given to what kind of snaps [he’ll receive].”

Harper said that was important for him because, “I didn’t want to just waste my time. I could be on the couch doing that.”

But the two-time Pro Bowl safety also has no illusions about his status, 10 years into his career.

“I know I’m going to play a lot less snaps than I’ve played in my career. I’m on the back end of my career. And I see it, and I’m happy about that,” Harper said. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m not mad about it. I’ve enjoyed every day of it, every second of it. It’s given me a whole bunch. And I’m just gonna ride this thing out, enjoy it, and when I’m done, I’m done.”

Harper said he embraces the idea of becoming a veteran leader for a young defense -- just like when he arrived in Carolina two years ago and helped the Panthers win two NFC South titles and make a trip to the Super Bowl last season.

Harper admitted he was out of touch with some of the things that were popular with younger guys, including the Instagram craze, etc. But "then the next thing you know, we’re dabbing and we’re dancing."

Harper said it was “awesome” for him to be taken out of his comfort zone a bit, needing to prove himself to a whole new group of coaches and teammates. Now he said he’ll have to do the same thing all over again in New Orleans.

For instance, after a few minutes of confusion when two different defensive backs were referred to as “Twin,” Harper finally caught on that the Saints have actual twins in their secondary -- Brian Dixon and Brandon Dixon.

“I look around the locker room and I know more coaches than I do players,” Harper said. “So I’ve really gotta dive in ... and get to know guys and show 'em who I am and show them the way of winning.”

“The younger guys, they need to feel success; they need to know what it smells like," Harper said, referencing another 2009 mantra. “[We need to] get this city buzzing again.”