On a wall of the Saints indoor practice facility hangs a giant banner commemorating the Super Bowl XLIV championship team with the names of some 70 players, including practice squaders who were on the roster at some point or other during the season.
Seeing it, one is always struck by how just five years later so few are still left on the team.
And now, with Wednesday’s release of Pierre Thomas, there’s one less.
For those keeping count, only Drew Brees, Jahri Evans, Marques Colston, Zach Strief and Thomas Morstead remain under contract.
Robert Meachem and Jonathan Goodwin are free agents who are unlikely to return, and Evans and Colston may find themselves much lighter in the wallet if they’re back in Black & Gold.
Even before the latest round of trimming the ranks began, last season there were no members of the 2009 defense remaining.
Boy, if Jerry Glanville didn’t trademark “Not For Long,” he should have.
That’s long been the nature of things in the NFL, where non-guaranteed contacts, salary cap rules that can require a PhD to master and short shelf lives often make for fleeting relationships with fans and teammates. Most players stay at their colleges longer than they do with their pro teams.
When Baltimore played the Saints last season, fewer than half of the Ravens starters from their Super Bowl run just two years earlier were in their same roles.
We all may know about it, but there’s something unjust about the ultimate team sport also being the most transient sport. And when a player was an integral part of that team reaching the top, especially one with such an emotional hold on its fan base, the outpouring of affection isn’t surprising.
“The man was a true Saint,” wrote one message board contributor.
“Sad day. Can’t imagine a huddle without Pierre Thomas in it. One of my all-time favorite teammates,” tweeted Strief.
Pierre Thomas was always one of those underdog types you rooted for.
Undrafted in 2007 despite leading Illinois in rushing for his final three seasons — he wasn’t even invited to the NFL combine — Thomas earned a roster spot by beating out fellow Big Ten running back Antonio Pittman, the Saints’ fourth-round pick.
He justified the Saints’ judgment, too.
In the Super Bowl season, it was Thomas, not Reggie Bush or Marques Colston, who led the team in yards from scrimmage with 793 rushing and 302 rushing. Thomas’ 85 yards from scrimmage in the Super Bowl also was a team high.
Plus, there wasn’t a more affable player, either in the locker room or with fans. He always had a smile for everyone.
However, Thomas never fit the role of an every-down back. Those 793 yards marked his career high.
And while there wasn’t a more-reliable chain-mover with his third-down receptions on screen passes, when Thomas scored on a 1-yard run in the Minnesota game, he joked about how he received so few goal-line rushing opportunities that the Vikings probably weren’t expecting him to get the ball. But otherwise, it wasn’t a very happy season for Thomas.
He missed four games with a rib injury and with the Saints out of the playoff hunt, he was placed on injured reserve.
And now, with the team apparently planning to go all out to keep Mark Ingram and younger, cheaper reserves either still on the team or inexpensively acquired, the Saints have moved on.
Obviously they’re not alone in their actions.
New England on Thursday cut its ties with Vince Wilfolk after 11 years rather than take an $8.9 million salary cap hit.
That’s the Patriots way — parting ways with players not named Tom Brady before they become to old and/or costly. And it’s why they’ve been to six Super Bowls in the Bill Belichick era.
Troy Polamalu is a first-year Hall of Famer, but the Pittsburgh Steelers reportedly want him to retire after 12 seasons rather than having to cut him.
Between now and the start of the league year Tuesday, expect to see several other similar situations played out.
And lest we forget that the reason Peyton Manning is in Denver is because the Indianapolis Colts decided his future effectiveness was in doubt after he missed the 2011 season with a neck injury.
Remarkably, in most cases the players accept it with good grace as part of the business.
Wilfolk issued a statement saying he was “in a good place,” adding he was blessed to play for the Patriots for 11 years and thanking the fans for their love.
Thomas had a similar message, thanking “Who Dat Nation for an unforgettable ride.”
And soon enough Thomas will likely find employment elsewhere.
And his former teammates will be welcoming someone else to the fold.
And Saints fans will be rationalizing that the new guy is an improvement.
But parting isn’t always necessarily sweet sorrow.
Or as Strief put it so well to close his tweet, “Hate the off-season.”