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Panthers sign Saints S Harper to 2-year contract

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

By STEVE REED

AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Roman Harper is headed to a place he was once loathed by fans in hopes of rejuvenating his NFL career.

The Panthers announced Tuesday they signed the longtime New Orleans Saints safety and division rival to a two-year contract.

Financial terms were not released.

"When I'm healthy I play at an extremely high level and I know I can compete and play at a high level in this league," Harper said on a conference call Tuesday. "I know I can still do that. I just want to continue to do that until it's time for me to go. And it's not time for me to go, yet."

Harper has been a mainstay at safety in New Orleans for the past eight seasons starting 104 games. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Harper has 17 career sacks, the most by any defensive back since 2006.

He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2010.

However, injuries limited him to five games in 2013 and he was phased out in favor of rookie Kenny Vaccaro.

Carolina fans remember Harper best for a late hit he put on star wide receiver Steve Smith in a game three years ago in Charlotte.

Smith slowed down to cross the goal line and Harper came crashing into him, causing players from both sides to get into a fight near the goal line. Harper was penalized and fined $15,000 for the hit.

But Harper and Smith won't have to coexist in Carolina.

Smith was released by the Panthers last week in a salary cap move and has since signed with the Baltimore Ravens.

"We've had our run-ins but when you play a team twice a year you're going to have those. He will be missed around here I'm sure, even though I've never been his teammate," Harper said. "I know he runs his mouth, but he knows I talk back. So it's been fun."

Harper believes Carolina is a perfect fit for him and that he will win fans over with his style of play.

The Panthers ranked second in the league last season on defense and feature one of the league's top front sevens, led by 2013 AP Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly.

Harper said he had extensive conversations with defensive coordinator Sean McDermott about how the team likes to use its defensive backs in blitz packages and is excited about that opportunity.

He's expected to replace starting strong safety Mike Mitchell, who signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this offseason.

Harper has seen some of the numbers Mitchell put up last year in his first season in Carolina - four interceptions and 3.5 sacks - and believes he could be in for a huge season in Carolina given his own playmaking ability.

"I'm not here to change anything. I'm not here to take over this team. I'm here to add to it," Harper said. "I know it's a great fit for me and my skill set to come over and help on this defense, and they don't need a lot of help."

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Updated March 18, 2014

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