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Harper: 'Mind-blowing' that Steve Smith is gone

New Panthers safety Roman Harper was as surprised as anyone when the team cut longtime receiver Steve Smith.

"It's mind-blowing. When you think of the Carolina Panthers, you think of that guy. He's probably been the one constant, consistent player for 10, 12, 13 years," Harper said. "I would love to play with that guy because I know how much he competes. I know how great of a player he is."

Harper, 31, signed his two-year deal with the Panthers on Tuesday after agreeing to terms last weekend.

Harper, who played his first eight seasons in New Orleans and went to two Pro Bowls, is expected to step in at strong safety for a Panthers' defense that ranked No. 2 last season behind Super Bowl-champion Seattle.

"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 during a conference call with reporters. "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."

Harper's 17 sacks since entering the league in 2006 as the Saints' second round pick are the most among defensive backs during that span. He said he talked with Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott about how McDermott likes to get his defensive backs involved in the blitz packages.

Harper made only five starts last season when he missed seven games with a knee injury and started getting phased out in favor of rookie Kenny Vaccaro. But Harper said he played well when he returned to the starting lineup at the end of the season.

"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. "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, who is from Alabama, said he wanted to go to a warm-weather city and play for a winning team.

He is best known among Panthers fans for his late hit on Steve Smith in a game three years ago after Smith slowed down to cross the goal line. Harper was penalized and fined $15,000 for the hit, which caused a fight between several players from both teams.

But Harper said he and Smith had a mutual respect.

"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."

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