Update, 3:58 p.m., Feb. 29, 2016
Marques Colston was officially released from the New Orleans Saints on Monday.
For the second time in less than a month, the New Orleans Saints are saying goodbye to a legend.
New Orleans has informed Marques Colston that he will be released, according to reports by ESPN, the NFL Network and the Associated Press, parting ways with the franchise’s all-time leading receiver and the man most synonymous with Drew Brees throughout the most successful era in team history.
With the release of Colston, only three Saints remain from the team that won the Super Bowl in 2009: Brees, tackle Zach Strief and punter Thomas Morstead. Piece by piece, the remnants of that roster have slipped away over the years, but this offseason’s decision to part ways with Colston and guard Jahri Evans pack an emotional punch to the end of that era.
“Marques has meant so much to our franchise the last 10 years,” Loomis said during an appearance on Sirius XM’s NFL Radio this month. “Just steady, great leadership, he’s just been fantastic.”
For years, Colston has been a treasure in New Orleans, a figure symbolic of Loomis and coach Sean Payton’s ability to find diamonds where the rest of the NFL saw coal.
Colston arrived in New Orleans as a seventh-round pick out of Hofstra, seemingly an afterthought at the end of a draft headlined by Reggie Bush.
But the man the Saints would end up calling “The Quiet Storm” ended up becoming the legend. Brilliant from the start, Colston ripped off six 1,000-yard seasons in his first seven years, the only miss coming when a torn ligament in his thumb derailed the start of his third campaign.
A big, acrobatic receiver at 6-foot-4, Colston had an incredible catch radius and great hands, but his connection with Brees — and the ability to know where his quarterback saw holes in the defense — made Colston a devastating threat and one of the more underrated players of his era.
Colston obliterated team records, setting Saints records for receptions (711), yards (9,759) and touchdowns (72), establishing himself as the best offensive player in franchise history not named Brees or Archie Manning.
But his accomplishments were underrated on a national scale. Colston never made the Pro Bowl, even though he ranks ninth in the NFL in both catches and yards since 2006, and his 72 touchdown catches are fourth in the league over the same span. Perhaps his decision to remain reserved and quiet — even teammates say he doesn’t talk much — hurt him at a position dominated by big, flashy personalities.
As good as Colston was, though, the Saints’ decision to release him came as little surprise. First reported by ESPN on Tuesday, Colston’s release represented an outcome many fans expected.
Injuries took their toll on Colston, and over the past two seasons he had become the Saints’ No. 3 target, a possession receiver who worked over the middle but rarely challenged the defense deep.
Colston’s production simply no longer matched his salary. After taking a pay cut to remain in New Orleans for the 2015 season, Colston produced 45 catches for 720 yards and four touchdowns, but the Saints save $3.2 million against the salary cap by releasing him, and there are players capable of handling his role in the pipeline.
Brandon Coleman, a 6-foot-6, former undrafted free agent from Rutgers, caught 30 passes last season, including nine in the final two games after Colston was sidelined with a chest injury.
“I think, in many ways, (Coleman) is the heir apparent to Marques,” Loomis said.
Colston likely will draw interest from teams looking for veteran help at receiver. But he’s already prepared for life after football, with widespread business interests that include part ownership of the Arena Football League’s Philadelphia Soul.
Whatever Colston’s next move is, his time in New Orleans has come to an end, an anticlimactic finish to one of the best decades any Saints player has ever put together.
Colston leaves a legacy that will be hard to forget.