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Carolina Panthers add safety Roman Harper

Former New Orleans Saints safety Roman Harper is best known around Charlotte for his late hit on receiver Steve Smith in a game three years ago.

But the next time he gets a chance to hit Smith, Harper will be in a Panthers uniform.

Two days after the Panthers cut ties with Smith, they agreed to terms on a two-year contract with Harper, league sources said Saturday.

Harper, 31, visited the Panthers this week and the two sides continued negotiating after the trip. The deal is for $4.5 million, with a $1.5 million bonus, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The Panthers are expected to announce the transaction Monday after Harper signs the contract.

Harper was among several Saints veterans who were released for salary cap purposes. He was due more than $3.1 million when he was cut in February.

Harper, a two-time Pro Bowler, gives the Panthers an experienced safety days after free agent safety Mike Mitchell left for Pittsburgh. While Mitchell played mostly free safety, Harper was more of an in-the-box safety for New Orleans who defended the run well but was victimized at times in deep coverage.

Harper was limited to five starts last season when he missed seven games due to a knee injury and saw his role reduced with the emergence of rookie Kenny Vaccaro. But Harper played well during the postseason, making five tackles in the Saints’ playoff loss at Seattle.

Harper’s 17 sacks are the most by any defensive back since 2006, when he was the Saints’ second-round pick out of Alabama. He has 15 forced fumbles, but only seven interceptions during his nine-year career.

It’s unclear what Harper’s signing means for Panthers free safety Charles Godfrey, who is coming off Achilles surgery and carries a $7.1 million cap figure.

Harper was involved in the Saints’ so-called Bountygate scandal that led to the season-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton in 2012. Yahoo! Sports reported Harper received $200 for a big hit during the Saints’ playoff win against Detroit in January 2012.

Harper was not disciplined for his role in the bounty program.

Harper drew a personal foul penalty and was fined $15,000 for drilling Smith after Smith slowed down before crossing the goal line on a touchdown catch during a 2011 game at Bank of America Stadium. Smith signed a three-year deal Friday with Baltimore, which faces the Panthers at M&T Stadium this season.

Harper was among the league’s lowest-rated safeties in 2012 when he started 16 games. Pro Football Focus ranked Harper 87th out of 88 safeties.

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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