Marques Colston gracefully said goodbye to New Orleans on Monday.
By early afternoon the next day, the Saints had returned the favor, parting ways with the best receiver in franchise history by lavishing praise on his contributions in a way few NFL veterans get to leave the team that drafted them anymore.
New Orleans officially acknowledged Colston’s release Tuesday, complete with statements from coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and owner Tom Benson, whose recognition of Colston’s achievements is rare for any player in any franchise in the NFL.
Colston left that kind of impact on the franchise.
“There have been very few players in our franchise’s history that have represented this team with the class, dignity and performance of Marques Colston,” Benson said. “In the locker room, on the field and in the community, Marques has always been a true professional, a role model and a winner who played a significant role in our team becoming a perennial contender that won a Super Bowl. On behalf of our team, I wish Marques and his family nothing but the best, and they will always be an important part of our organization.”
The decision to release Colston, who leaves the Saints as the franchise leader in catches, yards and touchdowns, was somewhat expected. By cutting Colston, the Saints save $3.2 million in salary-cap space, and the franchise’s all-time leading receiver had seen his role reduced last season to a No. 3 receiver, a spot Brandon Coleman may be able to fill for far less than the $5.9 million Colston was scheduled to count against the cap in 2016.
Now, after a flurry of moves — including a decision to part ways with right guard Jahri Evans, the best Saints lineman of the past decade — New Orleans is more than $10 million under the salary cap, and an expected contract extension for Drew Brees could give the Saints as much as $20 million to continue upgrading the roster.
But the numbers did not make the decision easy.
“Releasing a player like Marques Colston, who did so much for our team both on and off the field is one of the hardest parts of this job,” Loomis said. “Coming here as a seventh-round draft pick in 2006, Marques quickly developed into one of the most productive skill-position players in our franchise’s history. Just as important was the way that he always conducted himself both on and off the field. His professionalism, leadership and the guidance that he provided to our younger players were just as instrumental to our team’s success as his significant contributions on the field.”
Colston’s example, particularly his makeup, remains a template for the Saints.
“Upon his arrival as a seventh-round draft pick 10 years ago, Marques’ immediate contributions were significant in getting this team turned around so quickly to the point where you win a Super Bowl in year four,” Payton said. “His production, consistency, toughness and work ethic were second to none. You always knew what you were going to get from Marques, and that was everything that he had. All of the characteristics that Marques possesses are what we look for in a New Orleans Saint. I thank Marques for all that he did for our team and wish him the best of luck.”