Saints' Patrick Robinson had to 'cut off the past' to revive career

Patrick Robinson, coming off the best season of his eight-year career, says he's "learned a lot over these past few years." James Lang/USA TODAY Sports

METAIRIE, La. -- Patrick Robinson couldn't help but marvel at how much the New Orleans Saints' locker room has changed since his last time here -- the result of a 2017 renovation.

"It looks a lot different," Robinson said. "They redid everything in here, it seems like."

But, frankly, everything feels new to Robinson this second time around.

The 30-year-old cornerback, who just had his career-best season with the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, is back where he started with a five-year stretch from 2010-14 that was plagued by inconsistency and a major knee injury. Though Robinson was key to the Eagles' Super Bowl run, Philadelphia, tight against the salary cap, was essentially priced out of the market for the corner.

And when I asked the 2010 first-round draft pick about the time Saints coach Sean Payton brought him into his office when he was struggling in 2014 and showed him a list of cornerbacks who finally hit their stride later in their careers, Robinson said he hadn't really thought about it since.

"Honestly, when I left here, I kind of left everything here. I kind of started on a clean slate," said Robinson, who revived his career over the past three seasons with the Chargers, Colts and Eagles. "When I went out to California, it was pretty much just, 'Cut off the past,' and I was just going forward."

Robinson admitted he is as surprised as anyone to be back in New Orleans after signing a four-year, $20 million contract in free agency.

"Honestly, I kind of left on a bitter note, so I definitely didn't think I'd be back here," said Robinson -- who stressed he didn't have any problem with coaches or management.

"I just had a hard experience," Robinson said of his struggles.

Those of us in the media who have spoken with Robinson a couple times this offseason have noted how much more confidence he seems to be carrying. But the mere fact he was willing to return to New Orleans and try to exorcise those old demons makes that obvious.

Robinson admitted he struggled with his confidence during those early years, when he bounced in and out of the lineup and when he returned from that patellar injury that wiped out his 2013 season. He admitted he was doing too much thinking and running too many "what-if" scenarios through his mind when he was on the field. And that he needed the change of scenery when he became a free agent for the first time in 2014.

"I think for me, I think I needed to go through that experience," Robinson said, now that he has had the opportunity to look back on his first stint in New Orleans and the growth that came afterward. "Growing up, I was always very talented, one of the better skill players on the team. And going through that whole stretch of ups and downs, getting injured, I think that was definitely something that I needed. And over these past years, I've learned a lot."

Robinson was also happy to come back to New Orleans because his wife and kids like it here so much.

"So everything was pretty much right in place here," he said.

Robinson's best season in New Orleans was his second year, in 2011, when he performed well as the Saints' No. 3 corner. But his worst was 2012, when he struggled mightily as a full-time starter.

His injury came in Week 2 of the 2013 season. Then in 2014, Robinson earned a starting job with a great training camp, lost it early in the season and bounced back to be an asset as a nickel cornerback.

As it turned out, that was a hint of better things to come for Robinson, who ultimately thrived as a nickel specialist with both the Chargers and Eagles.

The 5-foot-11, 191-pounder had four interceptions and 18 passes defensed in the regular season for Philadelphia last year while primarily operating in the slot -- then he capped it off by returning an interception 50 yards for a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.

The Saints made nickel cornerback a top priority in free agency this year, so a Robinson reunion made perfect sense. Plus, Payton always kept faith in Robinson's ability to break through, which is why he called that meeting with him after Robinson was demoted in 2014 and had the scouting department produce that list of other cornerbacks who thrived later in their careers.

"I think there's a level of confidence in the player now," Payton said. "He's got a real good skill set. He's playing a position he's real familiar with. I just think that along with that, he's been able to stay healthy.

"But I think when you come off a season like he had and the production he had, it's easy to come into a lineup and certainly feel like you can excel and not just belong."