With the start of free agency less than a week away, the New Orleans Saints kept their focus on current assets, extending the low tender of $1.4 million to restricted free agent Safety Rafael Bush on Thursday. The Saints can match any offer Bush were to receive on the market but would not receive any compensation should they choose not to match.
Bush has been a valuable member of the Saints' secondary and special teams units since joining the club in 2012. Often rotating into the defensive backfield, Bush could be in line for a much bigger role should unrestricted free agent and incumbent starter Malcolm Jenkins sign for another team in the coming weeks. Having released long time starting Strong Safety Roman Harper, the Saints' depth at the Safety positions has taken a hit, and should Jenkins leave, only Kenny Vaccaro will be back from last season's unit.
Bush recorded 30 solo tackles, 5 pass defenses and a fumble recovery while serving mostly as a reserve. He saw an increase in action towards the season's end following a season ending ankle injury to Vaccaro, and played well. With defensive coordinator Rob Ryan favoring defensive packages with multiple safeties, Bush played a center field role and was solid in both coverage and run support. He also excelled on the Saints' kick coverage units and provided depth and reliability when needed over the last two seasons.
The Saints could have offered a higher tender to Bush, but their delicate cap situation limited them to the low tender. Nevertheless, the team is keen to keep hold of the former South Carolina State product. Fullback Jed Collins and Receiver Joe Morgan are also candidates to receive qualifying offers from New Orleans before free agency officially begins on March 11.
With so many key decisions lying ahead, the New Orleans Saints clearly want to exhaust all options in how to maximize what little cap space they have while keeping in mind the fact that Jimmy Graham's situation must be resolved at some point down the line. It is good to see them express interest in holding on to a valuable commodity like Bush, who has served them well. Bush not only has a chance to grasp the opportunity of a larger role with the Saints, but could increase his value heading into next season's free agency period.