Yesterday I wrote about why the Saints may have made a mistake in signing free agent defensive back Champ Bailey. Today, I am going to praise Mickey Loomis and Co. for a signing that was announced Monday night.
Rafael Bush was the Saints’ “third safety” in 2013, much like he was in 2012 – his first season in the black and gold. His first season, though, Bush was mostly just a guy who played in sub-packages and made a few big plays.
It was likely those big plays in 2012 which paved the way for a greater role in 2013. In fact, according to Football Outsiders Bush played 53% of all the Saints’ defensive snaps in 2013 – again as the teams’ “third safety”. Yet it was Bush who knocked Seattle’s Percy Harvin out of the Divisional Round Playoff game in mid-January.
It was Bush who really became the backbone at the safety spot when rookie sensation Kenny Vaccaro was lost for the remainder of the season in Week 15. The South Carolina State graduate proved that in playing more than half of the teams’ defensive snaps that he was capable of starting for another squad in 2014.
It is for that reason that the Atlanta Falcons wisely signed Bush to an offer sheet on April 3. Upon this announcement, Saints fans unfairly took to Twitter to criticize the 26-year old Bush.
WhoDat Nation apparently forgot we live in a society where financial freedom is considered a thing to be praised. Bush knew that signing Atlanta’s offer sheet would promise he and his family the opportunity to not worry about money going forward.
And if the Saints did not match the Falcons’ offer, Bush also would be given the opportunity to become a starting NFL safety. Multiple reports stated that Bush had spoken with Falcons safety William Moore about the opportunity to start alongside each other in the secondary, and that *gasp*…he was excited about that opportunity.
For a second – even just one – take a breath. Bush was only doing the thing this country was founded upon: looking for an opportunity to better himself and gain a better opportunity. Can he really be criticized for that in a country where such thing is foundational to our beliefs?
I’ll now step off my soapbox (the reality is that I’m not as individualistic in my own beliefs, but I understand why Bush made the decision to sign Atlanta’s Offer Sheet).
Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff recognized the same thing the Saints already knew: Bush is much too valuable to allow him to sit there in free agency dangling without a team. So Dimitroff made the obvious move: sign the restricted free agent.
From the Falcons’ perspective, worst-case scenario was having the Saints match the offer sheet. But even in that scenario, the Saints would be somewhat penalized, as it would finally stretch the teams’ cap beyond its own limits.
Likely, Dimitroff expected the offer made to Bush to be one the Saints could not match. If he had been correct in that assertion, the 24th best safety in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus, would have been starting in the Atlanta secondary in 2014.
In that sense Dimitroff had nothing to lose. He either gained an above average player (remember PFF doesn’t stipulate between “free” and “strong” safety when ranking players), or he caused the Saints to finally hit their cap limit – which seems limitless with Mickey Loomis at the helm.
Maybe the Falcons’ GM is actually the genius in this situation. Perhaps he was trying to bait the Saints into overpaying for a player they determined to have value, but will only be playing somewhere around two-thirds of the defensive snaps again in 2014.
Or maybe not. Maybe Loomis and the Saints’ front office knows that a player of Bush’s quality is invaluable. Not only was Bush was used essentially as a starter for much of 2013 on defense, but he was also known as a valuable member of the special teams units.
Is two years/$4.5 million, or thereabouts (as reported by multiple sources), too much to give to a player of stated caliber? In a word, No!
Bush’s presence in the defensive secondary does two things. First, it allows recent signee Jairus Byrd to focus on catching interceptions. Second, it allows Vaccaro to be that in-the-box player he proved capable of becoming last season.
Bush is that invaluable third wheel who steps in to allow each to do their thing to the best of their ability. But make no mistake, Bush will gain from the presence of the other two.
As already mentioned, Bush thrived in 2012 as a guy who could make the big play. Playing approximately two-thirds of the defensive snaps in 2014, Bush will have an opportunity to make big plays again, as quarterbacks try to avoid Jairus Byrd AND Kenny Vaccaro.
To that end, it really matters very little who is playing the second corner spot. Each of the three safeties who see regular action are going to be players capable of either knocking out a receiver if he comes within their vicinity, or of picking off a pass and making something exciting happen after the fact.
The Saints’ front seven is already among the best in the NFL. And last years’ secondary was not terrible. But it missed one key thing: big plays. This new safety threesome figures to be able to do just that: create big plays.
Sean Payton and the entire Saints’ football operations staff know the window is closing for the offense to be the explosive unit it once was. Hence the emphasis this offseason on becoming more of a power-run based offense.
Following from that is the unquestionable fact that some of the big plays in the next few years are going to have to come from the Saints defense.
Re-signing Rafael Bush makes that just a little more likely to come to fruition.