While Saints outside linebacker Parys Haralson was pleased to be moving closer to family, he didn't otherwise know what to expect when he was traded from the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers to a New Orleans team emerging from the bounty scandal and a 7-9 record.
After all, he was leaving one of the NFL's best defenses to join a unit that in 2012 went down as one of the worst ever, giving up an NFL-record 7,042 yards.
Turns out his new club is far better than it was last year and in the thick of the playoff race as his former team comes to town this Sunday.
"I've been able to play with a good team, a good group of guys and a good organization, so I couldn't be happier," said Haralson, who grew up in Mississippi and played for Tennessee in college. "I'm able to get home (more often) and a lot of my family are able to come to the games."
Haralson joined New Orleans shortly before the regular season, leaving behind good friends in San Francisco, as well as a chance to be a part of the Niners' quest to return to the Super Bowl, which they narrowly lost to Baltimore last February.
However, his move to New Orleans offered more promise for playing time.
In San Francisco, Haralson was expected to be a reserve while beginning a comeback season after missing all of last year's postseason run with a torn left triceps.
The Saints lost outside linebackers Will Smith and Victor Butler to serious knee injuries last summer, and needed help.
Haralson said he was surprised he wasn't traded sooner, given the depth the Niners had at his position, but isn't complaining.
He has started four games and seen ample action in New Orleans' other five games while playing a hybrid role as either a 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end, depending on the often changing alignments the Saints have employed this season under new coordinator Rob Ryan. He's accumulated 14 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for losses, five QB hits and also has broken up a pass.
"He is a veteran player. He is a physical player. There was a good fit, not only physically as a football player, but also as one who has had experience and been a part of a winning program," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "There's a confidence level about him that he brings and it really worked out well for us, just with his level of expertise of playing outside linebacker. He is versatile in that he can give you rush snaps and I think he is an outstanding teammate."
The 6-foot, 255-pound Haralson said he remains in regular contact with several former teammates, most often with Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Ray McDonald.
"I've been playing with those guys so long, man, so a bunch of those guys in that locker room will probably be my friends for life," Haralson said. "It's one of those things where you play this game and once you're done playing, the things you kind of take with you are your memories and your friendships."
Still, Haralson insists this game has no special meaning beyond the playoff implications it holds for his new club.
"I really look at it as it's a regular game. I don't say that because it's probably the right thing to say. You don't want to go out and say something hurtful. But that's really how I feel," Haralson said. "I've got a bunch of friends still in that locker room. But I'm a New Orleans Saint."
His former teammates say they miss him, but are pleased to see him doing well elsewhere.
"We understood (the trade), just knowing the business, Parys being an older guy and us having a few younger guys," 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. "We all loved him here, excited he's playing down there."
Statistically, Haralson's new unit stacks up well with his old one. San Francisco currently ranks sixth in total defense, while New Orleans is seventh, on pace to give up 122 fewer yards per game than in 2012.
"We have the makings of a great defense here," Haralson said. "The only thing about here, this group hasn't played as long together as that group (in San Francisco). But we're a very talented group, a bunch of young players coming along, working hard and getting the job done."
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