Sunday’s season finale at Atlanta could be the last call for the Saints offense’s ‘core four’ of Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Jahri Evans and Zach Strief _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- New Orleans Saints guard Jahri Evans (73) blocks Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker Mason Foster (59) during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

A line printed on the league’s transaction wire announced the end of Jahri Evans’ tenure with the Saints.

One of the most decorated players in team history, one of the faces of the revitalization of this once-dilapidated organization, will not be a part of the franchise’s next attempt to fight its way out of mediocrity.

It’s a surprising twist, perhaps because of the significance of the player being let go, but maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising. New Orleans explored the possibility of parting ways with Evans last offseason, only to end up moving Ben Grubbs to Kansas City for a midround draft pick.

But the move likely comes as a shock to Evans. He was asked about his future several times last season. And though he was aware of the rampant speculation that has surrounded his status with the club over the past year, he remained confident about coming back next season.

“I’ve known this was a business since the day I’ve been here. … The main thing is that I get paid what I’m worth,” Evans told The Advocate last season. “Sean (Payton) and I had a conversation about that before the season began and agreed on some things.”

He continued: “I’m not planning on being anywhere else. Maybe you’ve heard something different.”

We heard different on Monday when the NFL released that line under the heading “terminations of vested veterans.”

Evans was paid well during his time in New Orleans, as he should have been. He made six Pro Bowls and was named an All-Pro four times. He was, for quite some time, one of the better guards in the NFL. And with the way Drew Brees likes to climb the pocket, it was a necessity to have a player of Evans’ caliber keeping things clean for the quarterback.

It’s not a stretch to say Evans is one of the better offensive linemen ever to pass through New Orleans. And the hardware and accolades he’s collected serve as evidence that he’s been one of the better guards in the NFL since landing in New Orleans as a fourth-round pick out of Bloomsburg during the 2006 draft.

It seemed like Evans had silenced some of the speculation and concerns about his status with the team. Though he missed some time with a minor knee injury that required an arthroscopic procedure, Evans played better last season and appeared to be getting back on track after a down 2014, another season later revealed to be marred by injuries.

But it wasn’t enough to save him. Not with Evans’ salary to become guaranteed later this week, and not with him due a $1 million roster bonus.

His $8.2 million cap number was far too high for a team living so close to the salary cap. By parting ways with Evans, New Orleans was able to escape $3.1 million of that charge. However, the guard will represent a hefty charge of $5.1 million in dead money.

Now the Saints need to figure out how to find the next player to protect the interior of the line for Brees. If things had remained the same, New Orleans would have gone into the offseason in search of one guard to compete with Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete at the spot opposite Evans.

The Saints might now need two guards. While the team could get by with Lelito and Kelemete (both restricted free agents), the fact is New Orleans wasn’t happy with either of those players in the starting lineup last season and tried to use rookie tackle Andrus Peat opposite Evans at times.

Given the level of need at this spot, it would not be a surprise if the Saints attempt to add a veteran via free agency and then jump back in and draft another one. Given the importance of strong interior play for Brees, New Orleans can’t afford to go about this haphazardly.

But this move, more than anything, is another indication of how long ago 2006 and 2009 — two seasons many Saints fans hold dear to their hearts for obvious reasons — were. If it wasn’t clear before, the Super Bowl era has been over for quite some time.

Some remnants remain, and this team is always within shouting distance of returning to that level as long as Brees and Payton are around, but this is a new team with a new identity. Letting go of Evans only solidifies that point.

The players are well aware of this, too. After the season finale in Atlanta, Brees, Evans, Marques Colston and Zach Strief stood on the Georgia Dome turf and took a picture together. They said it was to mark their 10th season together. Deep down, they also had to know there was a good chance they’d never step on the field together again.

One of the faces captured in that image faded away on Monday.

With the cleaning under way, it remains possible he won’t be the last name from that era to appear on a transaction report.