Steelers receiver Lance Moore can’t be more level-headed or polite about it, but he admits he wishes his time spent with the Saints had concluded in a more ceremonious manner than it did.
“I wouldn’t say there were hard feelings — I totally understand the business,” said Moore, who played for New Orleans for years before he was cut for cost-related purposes this past spring. “(But) obviously, thinking selfishly, I would’ve liked it to have ended in a different way.”
Yet it didn’t, setting up a situation in which Moore will play against the Saints for the first time since turning pro when New Orleans (4-7) kicks off at Pittsburgh (7-4) on Sunday, something the veteran expects to be one of the strangest situations of his career.
“It’s definitely going to be one of the more weird-type games that I’ve played in,” Moore said.
Undrafted out of Toledo, the 5-foot-9, 177-pound Moore joined the Saints in 2005 and improbably went on to catch 346 regular-season passes for 4,281 yards — presently fifth and seventh in franchise history.
He also caught the fifth-most touchdown passes in Saints history (38) as well as a key two-point conversion in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, 2010, the night New Orleans won its lone NFL championship.
“The road that he traveled in order to get here and then to kind of work his way into the starting lineup I think is inspirational for any young player, especially a young receiver who comes into a system and it’s kind of, ‘Where’s my role? Where can I contribute?’ ” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said at a news conference Wednesday. “(His) football smarts were off the charts — he could do anything you asked him to do. … You never needed to describe to him how you wanted the route run — he just knew how to run it.”
But as the beginning of the 2014 free agency signing period neared in March, Moore was due $3.8 million in salary and bonuses, and his being cut would clear $2.5 million in space counting toward the league’s salary limit.
There wasn’t much of that space at the time, and it also didn’t benefit him that Kenny Stills — a rookie last year who was less expensive — had 641 yards and five touchdowns on 32 catches in the regular season while Moore had 457 yards and two TDs on 37 receptions.
The Saints opted to release Moore, and he later signed a two-year contract with the Steelers.
For someone like Saints receiver Joseph Morgan, who made the team in 2011 as an undrafted rookie, that sequence of events was “heartbreaking.”
“When I came here … there was nobody better to learn from,” Morgan said of Moore. “He used to make me come in every morning with him and work out. … Sometimes I didn’t want to, but he’d make sure you were in there — he’d make sure he was pushing you, trying to make you better.”
Moore isn’t as high in the Steelers’ pecking order as he was on the Saints’ in his best years. He’s caught 11 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns, relatively pedestrian numbers that are partially explained by the fact that Moore was inactive in two contests and wasn’t targeted in his first regular-season game with Pittsburgh.
He’s also on the same team as Antonio Brown, who as of Wednesday was leading the NFL in catches (88), was second in receiving yards (1,161) and was tied for fourth in touchdown grabs (nine).
But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told New Orleans media on Wednesday that he’s gotten exactly what he anticipated he would from Moore.
“He’s (a) savvy veteran … (and) a no-maintenance guy,” Tomlin said on a group phone call. “He’s extremely professional, … he comes with good ideas, he knows all the (receiver) positions.”
However, though he’s carved out a spot for himself on the Steelers’ offense, he hasn’t completely moved on from the Saints.
He remains in at least occasional contact with Saints at whose side he won the Super Bowl: receivers Marques Colston and Robert Meachem and running back Pierre Thomas.
“I don’t think anything can compare to that feeling after (the Super Bowl) ended, the confetti falling down on us and … sharing that moment with … teammates, coaches and the organization and the fans,” Moore said about when the Saints captured the Lombardi trophy fewer than five years after New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. “That whole experience was awesome.”
He also said he attempts to speak daily with two receivers he considered it a priority to mentor: Stills and Nick Toon, a 2012 third-round draft selection.
“Those relationships are the ones I’m going to carry with me even after I’m long gone (from) football,” Moore said. “Those guys were more than just my teammates and colleagues — they were my good friends.”