With less than 24 hours to reach a decision, the New Orleans Saints have elected to match the Atlanta Falcons' two-year $4.5 million offer sheet for restricted free agent Safety Rafael Bush. Bush signed the deal last week and the Saints had until Tuesday to match.
By exercising their right of first refusal, New Orleans will bring Bush back to be a part of what is becoming a loaded secondary. Having already brought in veteran Champ Bailey, former Toronto Argonauts Safety Marcus Ball, and the surprise signing of the market's premier free agent Safety Jarius Byrd, New Orleans has added talent across the board at the back-end of their defense. With Keenan Lewis, Kenny Vaccaro and Corey White already on board, the team was in need of additional depth and talent following the departures of Jabari Greer, Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins, and have certainly met their needs on paper. This includes their decision to match Bush's offer from Atlanta. Rafael Bush will return to the Saints in 2014.
The Saints took a risk in extending the 'low' tender to Bush, a former undrafted free agent out of South Carolina State, who spent his first NFL season on the Falcons' practice squad. They could have designated the 2nd round tender, which would have entitled them to compensation from Bush's new team, had they chose not to match. However, the point is now moot as Bush is now set to return to New Orleans for a third season.
Possessing a good mix of coverage skills and physicality, Bush will likely play a role similar to last season where he spent most of his snaps as the third Safety behind Vaccaro and Jenkins. With Byrd now slotted in opposite Vaccaro, Bush will still see plenty of reps as the all-important third Safety when the Saints shift to their 4-2-5 alignment, which worked well during Rob Ryan's first season as Defensive Coordinator. The 4-2-5 allows defenses to play faster and take advantage of the cover skills of it's defensive backs by integrating multiple coverages within the scheme. This particular defense fits Bush well, and he will also continue to contribute on special teams.
Having set career highs in tackles and passes defensed in 2013, Rafael Bush will be back in Black and Gold next season, poised to continue to play an important role for the Saints. Having proven himself as more than just a warm body on the depth chart, the Saints decision to match is not only a good move from a pure Football standpoint, but it prevents him from linking up with their bitter divisional rivals from Georgia.
Bush was said to be favoring a move to Atlanta, not just for financial reasons but for a seemingly better chance to earn playing time following Atlanta's decision to move on from Thomas DeCoud. Bush would have been partnered in the secondary by close friend William Moore. While he may still be a glorified reserve in New Orleans, Bush will be compensated the same as he would have been in Atlanta, and as stated above, will still play an important role in Rob Ryan's multiple defensive schemes.
While matching the offer sheet may be a bit of a surprise, keeping Bush is another good move by General Manager Mickey Loomis and the Saints' front office this offseason. Bush played enough snaps last season to show other teams that he is, indeed, capable of starting in this league.
The Saints end up giving Bush more than the low tender would have guaranteed him at just over $2 million per year, but for a player of his caliber, it is still nice value for New Orleans, and the team has managed to retain one of it's better free agents for a decent price. The team has been swinging for the fences during a busy offseason, and keeping hold of Rafael Bush will only improve their batting average as they eye another postseason push in 2014.
Meanwhile, loyal Saints fans can hang on to their #25 Bush jerseys for at least another year.