NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Saints have cut punter Thomas Morstead, who was a rookie when the franchise won its only Super Bowl and then played 11 more seasons.
“I’m obviously sad to be moving on from the team. The season I had wasn’t to the normal standard that I had set; there are a variety of reasons for that,” Morstead said Thursday, adding that he struggled with back problems during the previous offseason.
Morstead, whose contract paid an average annual salary of about $3.96 million, said he understands that as one of the highest paid players at his position, "the expectation is that you're playing at an elite level — and I didn’t do that."
Morstead appeared in all 16 regular-season games last season and had a net punting average of 41.7 yards, with 23 punts landing inside-the-20 yard line.
The 34-year-old Morstead said during a sometimes tearful video conference that he is “overwhelmed with gratitude” for his experience with the Saints. But he added that he was “surprised there wasn’t more conversation around any other way for me to try to stick around or come back and show that some of the things that were issues for me aren’t going to be issues going forward.”
The Saints had another punter, Blake Gillikin, in training camp last summer and he has remained under contract with the club, making him the front-runner to take over entering this year's training camp.
Still, Morstead, who also handled kickoffs for parts of his career, will remain part of Saints lore, particularly for his role in the Saints' Super Bowl triumph over Indianapolis. He served as the kicker when the Saints opened the second half of their Super Bowl triumph over Indianapolis with a surprise onside kick which became known by it’s play call, “ambush.”
“We know that as we approach the beginning of the NFL calendar year, that very difficult decisions have to be made and this certainly falls into this category,” said Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, alluding to New Orleans' need to clear room under the NFL's salary cap.
Cutting Morstead will save the Saints about $2.5 million.
The Saints selected the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Morstead out of SMU in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL draft. He also handled kickoffs his first five seasons. In 2012, he was selected for to the Pro Bowl and named second-team All-Pro.
Morstead appeared in 190 career regular-season games for New Orleans, punting 692 times for 32,190 yards, with a career gross average of 46.5 yards and net average of 41.6 yards.
“He has been a great leader and mentor to many younger players throughout his career and his Pro Bowl level of play year-in and year-out has been remarkable,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I know that Thomas will be highly successful in the future and am grateful to have had the opportunity to coach him.”
Morstead asserted that he does not believe his playing days are over.
“I certainly expect to get back to a very, very high level and hopefully somebody's willing to take the chance to see if that's going to come to fruition,” Morstead said.
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