Bobby Hebert. Craig "Ironhead" Heyward. Morten Andersen. Joe Horn. The list of former New Orleans Saints heroes to move east and join the hated Atlanta Falcons at one point or another in their respective careers is short, but hits home with a punch. There could be a new addition to the list, albeit not as prominent as the aforementioned quartet, but still packing enough of a punch to nudge Saints fans the wrong way.
Rafael Bush, a restricted free agent who the Saints extended the low tender to last month, signed an offer sheet with Atlanta earlier this week. The Saints have until Tuesday, April 8 to match the offer, or Bush will be the next ex-Saint to find himself on the other side of the heated rivalry between the deep south's most notable NFL franchises. Restricted free agent Rafael Bush
The terms of the offer sheet have yet to hit league wires, and depending on the money involved, Bush may well have played his last game in Black and Gold. The Saints took a risk in extending the 'low' tender as opposed to the higher 2nd round tender which would have entitled New Orleans to compensation, would Bush sign an offer sheet with another franchise that the team wouldn't match.
The Saints likely have a figure in mind in regards to whether or not they will match the Falcons' offer. With just over $2.2 million in cap space, it is unlikely that the team will want to exhaust such space on any offer that exceeded the approximate $1.4 million Bush would have earned had he signed his tender with New Orleans.
The Saints would have liked to have retained Bush within their own financial structure, as the team is still thin at Safety despite signing former Toronto Argonaut Safety Marcus Ball earlier this week. In addition, the Saints got free agency off to a bang with the signing of former Bills star Jairus Byrd. Behind Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro, Ball is the only other safety on the roster and is inexperienced at the NFL level. The Falcons have depth issues of their own at the position following their decision to release Thomas DeCoud last month.
Bush saw plenty of snaps as a third Safety in New Orleans's improved defense last season, thanks in part to aggressive playcalling and scheme flexibility from Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan, as well as injuries throughout the secondary. Possessing a good mix of coverage and ball skills along with physicality and tackling ability, Bush was also a routine contributor on special teams. The former undrafted free agent out of South Carolina State would likely play a similar role if he were to return to New Orleans, but the lure of extra money and, perhaps, a bigger role on defense may have contributed to his decision to entertain Atlanta's offer.
For his career, Bush has racked up 65 tackles, forced a fumble, recovered 3 fumbles, intercepted a pass and defended 6 passes, mostly in a reserve role in his three years between the Denver Broncos and Saints. After going undrafted in 2010, Bush actually began his pro career as a Falcon, spending that season on Atlanta's practice squad before landing in Denver the following season.
Ideally, the Saints would match any offer Bush receives, especially from their heated divisional rivals, but cap space, an unsigned Jimmy Graham and a soon-to-be unsigned draft class will be bigger priorities for the team. The signing of Marcus Ball may make more sense now, though bringing Bush back would ensure one of, if not the most solid three-man rotation at the back-end of secondaries across the league. The team remains interested in signing free agent Champ bailey, who visited New orleans earlier in the week. Bailey is said to be open to playing Safety, but it remains to be seen what kind of terms he is willing to accept.
Rafael Bush is a player who is capable of being a starter in this league, and the Falcons see an opportunity to snatch a good player at what will most likely be a value price. Furthermore, they can get this player from their arch rival, a player who played an important role with the Saints last season. Bush has a bright future ahead of him. Which side of the south's most heated NFL rivalry that future lies on will be revealed in the next 4 days at the longest.