Originally, Justin Hardee Sr. wasn't much more than a great underdog story, the undrafted-college-receiver-turned-NFL-defensive-back who hustled his way into a roster spot as a special teamer for the New Orleans Saints after being released by Houston prior to the 2017 regular season.
But Hardee has proven to be as much of an achiever as an overachiever, and he continued that career arc Friday, when he agreed to terms on a contract that will keep him with the New Orleans Saints in 2020.
In three previous seasons, Hardee played in 46 regular-season games and led the Saints with 24 special teams tackles. He also blocked a punt, caught a 10-yard pass and defensively, he intercepted a pass and returned it 77 yards, defended two passes and had 15 solo tackles.
It didn't go unnoticed, and not only from the Saints.
"Another team was offering me a little more," said Hardee, who became an unrestricted free agent after New Orleans chose not to tender him a contract offer as a restricted free agent. "I won't say any names, but another team was offering me a little more.
"And it just came to a decision that had to be made – I just asked the Saints to give me a little bit more, and they did. That just let me know that they really do want me here. It's a blessing. It's a blessing."
Hardee never has made a secret of the fact that he aspires to be a regular contributor defensively for the Saints, and he said that aspiration fuels his quest to improve.
"No matter where I go, I'm going to always be me, give my all," he said. "I expect myself to get so much better, there will definitely a total difference from year four Justin Hardee to year three. And I'll let my play do the talking, I won't talk too much about that. My play will determine my role."