Top 10 Best free agents signed by the Saints:
10. Quinn Early
9. Wesley Walls
#7 – Jabari Greer and Darren Sharper.
As has been documented several times over, the Saints have tried to upgrade their secondary via the draft, with trades and through free agency. The Saints traded for disgruntled Green Bay Packer corner Mike McKenzie in 2004, but an aging Fred Thomas could not keep up with McKenzie, and by 2006 it was obvious the Saints had to look elsewhere.
An injury to McKenzie in 2008 meant a complete make over for most of the secondary in 2009 –and yes, that included safety where only 4th year pro Roman Harper was expected to keep his starting job.
First, the Saints set their sights on Rams’ cornerback Ron Bartell. However, Bartell chose to re-sign with the Rams, so the Saints started looking for the next target on the list.
Jabari Greer was an undrafted free agent out of the University of Tennessee in 2004. The 5’ 11” corner played mainly special teams and served as the nickel/dime back. In 2008, Greer became a starter, and he played 10 games, but missed 6 due to injury. However, the Bills drafted Leodis McKelvin in the first round 2008 –and the Bills were ready for McKelvin to be a starter.
Meanwhile, safety Darren Sharper was on his way out of Minnesota. Despite making the pro bowl in 2007and the active interception leader, Sharper was entering his 11th season and the Vikings felt Sharper was past his prime.
Two players, unwanted by the rest of the league, would find a home for the unwanted refuse of the NFL –the New Orleans Saints.
There was just one last piece needed to complete the makeover –a defensive coordinator to forge the defense into something just as aggressive, bold and daring as the offense. The Saints hired Buddy Ryan disciple, Gregg Williams, as well as second year pro Tracy Porter promoted to starter and the makeover was complete.
Everyone knows how the story ended, a magical season ending in a Super Bowl Championship. Darren Sharper picked off nine passes –one short of the team record of 10 set in 1967 by cornerback Dave Whitsell. The two most important interceptions of the season were made by Tracy Porter, but it was clear Greer solidified the cornerback position. He played both that pass and run well and was a solid leader in the secondary.
Sadly, the future was not nearly as bright for Sharper. He spent the offseason before the 2010 season recovering from knee surgery, and would never be the same. He played sporadically that season, and was out of the NFL by the 2011 season.
Jabari Greer would play for three more seasons as a starter. But during the 2013 season against the 49ers, Greer suffered a horrific knee injury and would never play football again. He retired in 2014, but remains an occasional commentator on the Saints.
As I said in the list of the worst ever free agents, Sharper’s 2009 season would have a profound effect on Sean Payton. Getting a young ball hawk in the secondary who could play both the run and force interceptions would drive him for next 8 seasons.
Greer would have an impact as well. His leadership and professionalism would be sorely lacking in the 2014 season as Junior Galette’s antics would divide the locker room, and the team would crash and burn to a 7-9 record after being in the playoffs the season before.
As a post script, whatever happened to Ron Bartell, who stayed with the Rams?
He remained as a starter for the next two years, but he injured his neck in 2011 and ended up on injured reserve. He would be released, play a season with the Raiders, then one last one with the Lions.
Bartell would finish with only 8 career interceptions, while Greer finished with 13.
Sometimes, the guy you want isn’t the guy you need. Sometimes, it’s the unwanted that are the better fit.