I can't say that I am shocked by the moves the Saints made today when they released a quartet of veterans that helped them win the Super Bowl in 2010. The Saints trimmed $16 million dollars of salary cap space by releasing Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer, and Roman Harper.
"While it was always my dream to retire as a member of the New Orleans Saints, I recognize that the NFL remains a business first. I will always be grateful to Mr. Benson, Mr. Loomis, and Coach Payton for the opportunity they gave me to play the sport I love in front of football’s greatest fans, amongst some of my best friends" said Defensive End Will Smith. All four players were key cogs in the Saints championship wheel. Smith was a first round draft pick in 2004. Linebacker Jonthan Vilma came over in a trade from New York in 2008. Harper was a part of Sean Payton's first draft class in 2006 as a second round pick. Jabari Greer was a prized free agent in the 2009 off-season that helped solidify the Saints' secondary.
All four players have battled injuries over the last two seasons. Vilma just hasn't been the same player since 2011. Smith suffered an ACL tear in 2013. Harper was slowed by nagging injuries this past season, Jabari Greer had a devastating knee injury that might be career threatening. So while on the surface the moves might seem shrewd, they were necessary.
“These were not easy decisions to make,” said Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis. “Since we acquired them, Jabari, Roman, Will and Jonathan have all been excellent players on the field for us. Each of them were integral parts in turning this program around and winning a Super Bowl. They were a great example to our players as team leaders in the locker room as well.
For the Saints and Loomis, it was just about creating money. "These are the kinds of players and people you hope to acquire. However, a new NFL year is about to begin and, with the start of free agency in March, these difficult moves allow us to position our team under the salary cap to move forward for 2014" Loomis explained. All four players were over the age of 30, and by NFL standards that's considered old.
The moves signal a few things for the Saints. One, this money is clearing way for a deal with Tight End Jimmy Graham. Two, the Saints like the depth and youth on their defense, considering all four moves were made on that side of the ball. The release of the four veterans is another harsh reminder that NFL is strictly about building teams and winning championships.