It seems cold and callous to suggest that the New Orleans Saints will be OK after releasing longtime receiver Lance Moore. I felt the same way last month after the Saints released four of their all-time great defensive players.
Moore spent nine years as a core member of one of the greatest passing offenses in NFL history. He ranks in the top five in franchise history in receptions and receiving touchdowns. His two-point conversion catch in Super Bowl XLIV will be remembered forever. He's a sure bet for the Saints' Hall of Fame. And fans already have been tweeting about how much they'll miss his touchdown celebrations.
And yet, the Saints probably will be OK without him. Just as they'll probably be fine if they trade or release longtime running back Pierre Thomas.
That's the cold and callous reality of the NFL.
This isn't exactly a salary cap-mandated fire sale that we're seeing in New Orleans. We're just seeing a team that is making some hard but calculated football decisions about the cost of players versus their value.
Moore's release is a little different from those of Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer because he's still in the tail end of his prime. Moore is 30 years old, which isn't over the hill for a receiver. He just had his first career 1,000-yard season in 2012 and he racked up nearly 2,500 yards and 22 touchdowns from 2010-12.
But when I look at the role Moore played with the Saints last season -- and when I look at all the other options available at cheaper prices in both free agency and the draft -- I can understand the Saints' decision.
Moore will now become one of several experienced receivers who can be had on the open market at a discount price. But another team would be wise to take advantage. The 5-foot-9, 190-pounder has always been a shifty, sure-handed receiver, used in much the same fashion as Wes Welker on a smaller scale.
I was surprised at how much Moore's role diminished with the Saints last season. After he missed three games with a hand injury early in the season, he spent the rest of the year as the team's No. 3 receiver behind rookie Kenny Stills -- playing less than 50 percent of the snaps when he was in the lineup.
As a result, Moore finished with just 37 catches for 457 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season, plus another four catches for 51 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs.
I felt as though he was underutilized by the Saints last year, especially when their passing offense was stagnant late in the season. But if the Saints projected him in the same role, then it absolutely made sense for them to release him rather than paying him $3.8 million in salary and bonuses.
The Saints will go into this year with veteran Marques Colston and Stills as their top two receivers. And, of course, they have top receiving targets in tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Darren Sproles.
After that, they now have a ton of question marks in their receiving corps: unrestricted free-agent veteran Robert Meachem, who is getting older as well; restricted free agent Joe Morgan, who is coming off of a major knee injury; and young prospect Nick Toon, who has shown promise but has been inconsistent.
The Saints will undoubtedly have to dip into free agency and/or the draft for more help -- possibly even in the first round of the draft.
But they can and will find new weapons to emerge in a diverse offense that has always been able to spread the wealth under the direction of coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees.