Roman Harper, 41, was cut from the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, along with Will Smith, Jabari Greer and Jonathan Vilma. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 11:51 AM
Wait a minute. Is Drew Brees still a Saint?
Let me check.
Yeah, he’s still there.
Still the coach.
So it’s all good.
The Saints still have the “feel” of the Super Bowl champions.
It’s not 2009 anymore, but the dual face of the franchise is still intact.
The rest is just business in the NFL.
The Saints’ St. Valentine’s Day Eve Massacre left a lot of beloved and familiar players on the street Thursday.
Well, safety Roman Harper, for one. And there’s defensive end Will Smith and cornerback Jabari Greer. The Saints had already said they weren’t going to re-sign linebacker Jonathan Vilma, whose contract had run out.
The other three were just whacked. Cut from the team, albeit with a hug.
Nothing personal, you understand. Just business. Nobody was mad. Nobody is going to go postal.
Quite the contrary.
A statement from Payton didn’t seem to be manufactured; it seemed to come straight from the heart: “I put these four guys right up there at the top. Jabari, Roman, Will and Jonathan all represent and epitomise what we look for in players. These are disciplined, smart, tough and team-oriented individuals.”
You could almost feel the tears.
Nor were there any hard feelings from the four now out-of-work millionaires, who took to social media basically to thank everybody in the organization, the city and the state for the best years of their lives.
Those four, as much any of the Saints sans Brees, embraced the whole nutty culture of their adopted city.
It wasn’t lip service. The Super Bowl Saints really did embrace their starring roles as the face of New Orleans’ revival after Hurricane Katrina, and those four belonged in the lead Mardi Gras float as much as any.
They will always be a part of New Orleans.
But the NFL salary cap is a cold, calculating, unemotional critter. It’s the methodical Eastern European assassin in an international spy-thriller movie.
The Saints, according to NOLA.com, went into the offseason roughly $12 million over the projected salary cap for next year.
Thursday they cut $17 million the easy way, with no negotiations.
Sad, in a way.
Hard to believe, but it leaves the Saints with only nine players left from the charismatic Super Bowl champions, and that number figures dwindle further before the team takes the field again.
Until the Saints win another Super Bowl — and Brees isn’t getting any younger — those four will always be remembered fondly by fans as the heart, soul and core of a defense that did just enough to make sure Brees could outscore all comers and win the Super Bowl.
It was kind of a smoke-and-mirrors defense, the Super Bowl year was, giving up yards by the truckload, but also with an uncanny knack for coming up with turnovers at just the right moment.
That was then.
But leave the emotions out of it for a moment. Forget, even, the salary cap considerations.
Last season was easily the best defense the Saints have fielded in the Brees-Payton era.
It had some two-minute issues, but there was no smoke and mirrors deployed.
The not-yet-forgotten four really had very little to do with that defense, let alone its vast improvement from the historically bad unit from the season before.
All four have been plagued by injuries in recent years, plus the aging process.
Their leadership will be tough to replace, at least in the short term.
But it’s hard to realistically say that the Saints defense will miss them much on the field.
The undisputed face of this new and improved Saints defense is coordinator Rex Ryan — and what a face it is, particularly that uncontrollable head of hair worthy of being the hood ornament on any float in New Orleans.
He can’t play, but the key elements out there on the field now are the likes of Akeem Hicks, Junior Gallette, Kenny Vaccaro, Kennan Lewis and Cameron Jordan.
Their big paydays will come — and then they become liabilities — but for now they come a lot cheaper than the fan favorites who got let go Thursday.
Mostly it freed up cap space for the Saints to use where they really need it.
That would be finding Brees an offensive line that doesn’t up his insurance premiums.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org