Parys Haralson believes he accomplished his primary goal with the New Orleans Saints last season: Getting his teammates to trust he’s capable of doing his job.
However, he’d be lying if he said he was certain he’d get a chance to do that again, he admitted in a telephone interview Wednesday. Haralson tore a pectoral muscle in January, and it was only a little more than two months later that he entered unrestricted free agency for the first time in his nine-year NFL career.
“Am I going to get a call?” Haralson asked himself. “Does anybody still want me? ... Does anybody have questions about my injury? Man, will I even be able to be back in time to work out and show people I’m healthy?”
On Tuesday, the 30-year-old native of Flora, Miss., learned the answer: The team that traded for him toward the end of the 2013 preseason was bringing him back. The Saints reached terms with Haralson on a one-year deal.
The rehab sessions he’s been undergoing were paying off, and he can now turn his attention to a familiar objective: earning his teammates’ trust again.
“In sports, in football, you have to do that year to year,” Haralson said.
He shouldn’t have major issues if he can replicate his form from 2013.
Armed with a work ethic he credits to a previous stint as an employee at his grandfather’s junkyard, Haralson arrived in New Orleans after spending his first seven NFL seasons in San Francisco, who selected him in the fifth-round of the 2006 draft. Before his original contract expired, he signed a four-year extension with the 49ers in 2009; but in a 2012 preseason exhibition, he tore a triceps tendon in his left arm and missed the campaign.
In exchange for a 2014 seventh-round draft pick, San Francisco in August traded Haralson to New Orleans, who had lost a couple of outside linebackers to year-ending knee injuries in the preseason.
The Saints received good value from the move. The 6-foot, 255-pound Haralson rotated in on 373 of the Saints’ 1,048 defensive snaps (including the postseason) and graded well league-wide among players at his position against the run, according to the analytics website Pro Football Focus.
He had 3.5 sacks in the regular season, fourth-most on the team, to go with 30 tackles. His 19 regular-season stops, or solo tackles constituting a failed offensive play for opponents, were only fewer than those produced for the Saints by Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, Akiem Hicks, Junior Galette, Kenny Vaccaro and Cameron Jordan, Pro Football Focus’ stats indicated.
Lofton, Hawthorne, Hicks, Galette, Vaccaro and Jordan all are slated for key roles next year after leading New Orleans’ recovery from a last-place finish in yards allowed on defense in 2012 to a No. 4 ranking in that category in 2013.
Haralson hurt the pec in the left side of his chest late in the second quarter of the Saints’ wildcard playoff win at Philadelphia. He sat out the rest of the game as well as the divisional-round defeat at Seattle; had surgery; and was tasked with rehab as free agency loomed.
Living in San Jose, Calif., Haralson has been powering through about two hours of rehab up to four times a week. That’s on top of his daily two-hour workouts in which he lifts whatever weights he can and runs to maintain his shape.
Any insecurities he harbored about his job prospects in 2014 were to a degree allayed when the Saints expressed an initial interest in keeping him by late February, relatively early in the offseason. That helped him focus strictly on healing.
“Knowing that you have a team that’s still interested in you, even though you had the injury — it shows they still have faith in you, and it makes it a lot easier,” Haralson remarked. “I wanted to be there (in New Orleans). I enjoyed my time, my team, the atmosphere.”
Now that the Saints and Haralson’s agent, Sean Kiernan, finalized negotiations on the linebacker’s return, it’s back to putting the finishing touches on rehab for the veteran. He said he’s aiming to be able to participate in the Saints’ upcoming spring conditioning programs.
“I’m ahead of schedule,” Haralson said. “I’m getting my motion back and the strength is coming back, so I can push off and everything.”
Without reluctance, he added: “The chest is fine.”
“I didn’t even notice it. I heard people saying it who saw it on TV, and some of my teammates were telling me about it; but I didn’t even hear it.” — Haralson on his reaction to the Philadelphia crowd loudly booing him when he fell hurt. Fans incorrectly suspected he was flopping to slow down the Eagles’ up-tempo offense.