Jan 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos safety Jim Leonhard (36) against the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The New Orleans Saints have signed free-agent safety and seasoned veteran Jim Leonhard, but what does it mean for Roman Harper as we approach the NFL draft?
NOLA.com’s Larry Holder was the first to break the news via Twitter:
Leonhard is a veteran in the utmost sense. He spent last season as a backup in Denver, but appeared in 15 games while recording 18 tackles and two interceptions. Prior to his stint in Denver, Leonhard was a starter in both Baltimore and with New York Jets.
Now 30 years old, it’s painfully obvious why the Saints brought Leonhard in—he has experience in new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme, as he was a starter in Rex’s identical scheme during his time with the Jets.
Outside of simply having experience in the system, Leonhard was one of the best safeties in the NFL during the 2011 season with the Jets. He recorded 48 tackles and an interception over the course of 13 games and ranked as the No. 18 safety in the NFL according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required).
Many Saints fans will in turn look for Leonhard to compete for the starting strong safety job with last year’s starter, Roman Harper. Some may even think the signing means Harper will be shown the door considering the team owes him over $5 million next season.
The fact of the matter is, the Leonhard signing does not mean much in regards to Harper’s status with the team. He’ll clearly be asked to take a pay cut at some point—that seemed obvious without the team bringing in another veteran to nudge him in the right direction.
Before the Harper signing, the Saints only had around $2 million in cap space, so Harper is a candidate to restructure or be cut. The smart play for the team is to allow both to compete for the starting job throughout the course of the preseason. Leonhard has battled injuries the past few seasons so the last thing the team needs to do is cut Harper outright and be without a starting-caliber player at strong safety.
Leonhard could easily take the starting gig from Harper, but for all we know Harper will respond well to the scheme change. The signing gives the Saints some impressive veteran depth in a secondary coming off a historically bad season.
Outside of that, the signing does not mean much for Roman Harper.