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Panthers safety Roman Harper has big fan in Saints coach Sean Payton

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2011 DAVID T. FOSTER III CHARLOTTE OBSERVER FILE PHOTO - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith gets hit late by New Orleans Saints' Roman Harper after a touchdown on Oct. 9, 2011. The Panthers have agreed to a two-year contract with Harper.

ORLANDO, Fla. New Carolina Panthers safety Roman Harper was a part of New Orleans coach Sean Payton’s first draft class with the Saints.

He was a starter on the Saints’ lone Super Bowl team and a part of what Payton called the foundation of the most successful stretch in franchise history.

Now Harper is playing for the enemy – or if not the enemy, at least an NFC South rival. As such, Harper will have the chance to face his former team twice a year.

But Payton said losing Harper, cut in February in a salary-cap move, to a division rival didn’t bother him.

“When you’re with a player like that, who’s in your initial (2006) draft class, who was our second-round pick, who’s been a part of all our playoffs, who’s been a part of our Super Bowl, two NFC Championship (games) – he’s been a part of everything,” Payton said Monday on the first day of the NFL owners meetings at the Ritz-Carlton.

“When you’ve had that much experience with a player, you really want what’s best for them – whether it’s in your division, in the AFC. He’s someone that will walk together forever with so many different players in our building. So you root for him.”

Harper, who signed a two-year, $4.5 million deal with the Panthers last week, started only five games last season as he dealt with a knee injury that sidelined him seven games. Harper, 31, also had his playing time cut by the emergence of rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro.

But he played well late for the Saints, making five tackles during a playoff loss to Seattle.

“I think he definitely has more years ahead of him,” Payton said. “He’s very intelligent, so he learns quickly. He’s instinctive and I think he’s someone that from the very first time we started playing him – he played as a rookie – he had very good football instincts. So that’s hard to teach. That’ll be important.”

No comp picks for Panthers: As expected, the Panthers received no compensatory picks when the NFL announced the extra picks for teams.

The Panthers signed several unrestricted free agents last offseason, including cornerback Drayton Florence, linebacker Chase Blackburn and receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon. They lost linebacker Jason Phillips, receiver Louis Murphy and tight end Gary Barnidge in free agency last year.

The Panthers have taken more of a hit this year, an exodus that could bring them comp picks next year (the maximum awarded is four).

Carolina has lost six unrestricted free agents and signed five.

The Panthers will have seven picks – one in every round – in the draft May 8-10 in New York. Carolina received a seventh-round pick from the Giants in the Jon Beason trade.

White cashes in: Panthers cornerback Melvin White, who started 10 games after signing as an undrafted free agent, received $269,714 in performance-based pay last season, the fifth-highest total in the league.

White topped the Panthers’ list for performance pay, followed by right tackle Byron Bell ($245,249), right guard Nate Chandler ($166,547), safety Quintin Mikell ($151,202) and cornerback Drayton Florence ($132,333).

Performance-based pay for other notable players included middle linebacker Luke Kuechly ($47,534), quarterback Cam Newton ($21,585) and former receiver Steve Smith ($17,220).

The performance pay program was designed to reward players whose playing time exceeded their base salaries. Low-round or undrafted picks, and lower-compensated players generally earn the most extra money in the program.

Fines for illegal hits on receivers down: League officials released data they believe shows the rules implemented during 2010 to protect defenseless players are working.

The league fined 25 players for hits on defenseless receivers last season, down from 40 in 2012, Atlanta Falcons president and competition committee chairman Rich McKay said.

McKay also said ACL injuries among tight ends and receivers decreased during 2013.

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