Panthers pick up ex-Saints safety Roman Harper

If things go according to plan, ex-Saints safety Roman Harper will get to face his old team twice next year.

Harper on Saturday agreed to terms on a two-year deal with Carolina, New Orleans’ NFC South rival, The Associated Press reported.

Citing an anonymous source, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said the agreement is worth $4.5 million and includes a $1.5 million signing bonus. It had been rumored for some time that Carolina might be a landing spot for the veteran entering his ninth NFL season.

Harper was due more than $3.1 million in salary and bonuses when the Saints released him in February.

He was a second-round pick out of Alabama in 2006 for New Orleans, perhaps the greatest draft class in Saints history. The two-time Pro Bowler’s 528 solo tackles are fifth all-time for the Saints and the most among players during the coach Sean Payton era, and he had 54 pass break-ups.

Harper recorded 17 sacks and had a team-high seven of those in 2011. He recovered three fumbles and picked off seven passes for the Black and Gold. He returned one interception for a touchdown in a game against Atlanta in 2007.

In 2013, when the Saints won 12 of the 18 games they played and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs, Harper sat out seven games with a knee injury in the middle of the campaign.

He was less productive than fellow safeties Malcolm Jenkins (now with Philadelphia) and rookie Kenny Vaccaro and about equal numbers-wise with the younger, promising Rafael Bush. Harper had gotten expensive for the role he played, though — like others who were with the Saints in 2006 — he will not be forgotten for the hand he had in winning the franchise’s lone Super Bowl at the end of the 2009 season.

Harper said he was proud that he was part of a unit that improved from 32nd place in 2012 to fourth this past year, a turnaround that was unprecedented since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. He would not have minded returning to the group in 2014.

“It feels good to watch the game film and actually see guys were really ready to fight and die for each other,” he said in January. “It was great to see guys out there playing for the guy beside them. We were all in, flying around,” routinely making opponents punt the ball.

Saints fans will find humor in the fact that Harper didn’t agree to join the Panthers until after they released iconic wide receiver Steve Smith, who subsequently accepted a deal from Baltimore.

During a game in 2012, after Smith scored a 54-yard touchdown, Harper barreled into Smith several yards into the end zone. That prompted both of their teams to brawl; Smith to yank Jenkins by the facemask; and Harper to get flagged for a personal foul penalty.

To be fair, Harper last year said he’d “moved on” from the incident.

“I’m sure (Smith) probably has, too,” Harper added.

The Panthers reached their agreement with Harper three days after safety Mike Mitchell left Carolina for Pittsburgh in free agency.

Asked to comment on his move to Carolina, via text message Harper said, “One word: excited.”