Although Saints coach Sean Payton had stuck with Hartley through some previous rough patches, Hartley's two missed field goals in a 27-16 loss at St. Louis last week turned out to be the last straw.
The Saints also released veteran backup cornerback Chris Carr on Tuesday (with no corresponding move announced). Payton hinted Monday that several players' roles would be evaluated after a sluggish performance at St. Louis that the coach admitted was one of the most frustrating of his career in New Orleans.
"Whether it's (the kicker), the tackle position, whether it's a player on defense, the one thing I know I don't want to do is just repeat the process over and over again," Payton said Monday. "So we're gonna look closely at what our options are and what gives us the best chance as we get ready to play this coming week (at Carolina)."
Hartley, 27, made 22 of 30 field goal attempts this season (a career-low 73 percent). He was on the hot seat earlier this year when he missed four out of six field-goal attempts. But he had temporarily righted the ship before this past Sunday. He had a low 36-yard attempt blocked, then shanked a 26-yarder wide left.
Cutting Hartley was obviously no small decision for Payton.
Hartley made arguably the four biggest kicks in Saints history during the 2009-2010 Super Bowl run -- a 40-yarder in overtime of the NFC Championship Game, followed by three kicks of more than 40 yards in Super Bowl XLIV.
But Hartley's career has been filled with some extreme highs and lows since he joined the Saints in the middle of the 2008 season.
In 2009, Hartley served a four-game suspension to start the season after testing positive for a banned stimulant, and then he struggled with his consistency when he finally won the job back in December. But Payton's faith paid off that year, when he was so clutch in the postseason.
However, in 2010, Hartley struggled again and temporarily lost his job before bouncing back. Then in 2011, he missed the entire season with a hip injury.
Last year was about the only ordinary season of Hartley's career, when he made 18 of 22 field-goal attempts. Tuesday is the Saints' players' day off. So nobody was available for immediate reaction.
Punter Thomas Morstead sent out a brief message on Twitter:
— Thomas Morstead (@thomasmorstead) December 17, 2013
Graham, 36, is a former Pro Bowler and one of the NFL's most accurate kickers of all-time, having converted 85.4 percent of his field goal attempts in 12 NFL seasons.
But he has been bouncing around the NFL since being released by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010. Graham has only played one full-time season since 2009 -- last year with the Houston Texans, when he made 31 of 38 attempts in the regular season and 6 of 6 in the playoffs. He signed with the Cleveland Browns this year and was released after the preseason. He then briefly signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a potential injury replacement in September but never appeared in a game.