Michael Mauti falls short of Saints' roster despite 'courage and heart'

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have to remove nearly 40 players from their roster by the end of the week. But it's hard to imagine any of the moves will be tougher personally on the team's decision-makers than Friday's release of linebacker/special teams ace Michael Mauti.

Mauti, 27, worked his way back this summer from a series of three surgeries that finally relieved his longtime battle with ulcerative colitis, a debilitating inflammatory bowel disease.

Mauti said that at one point he got down to 190 pounds -- 50 pounds below his playing weight -- and he had to almost "hack" his body to figure out what he could eat and drink to retain the nutrients and gain the weight back.

But he did it, re-signing with the Saints on the eve of training camp and playing well enough this summer to make a strong case for himself. Apparently the Saints didn't see quite enough, though.

"When it involves a player like that who just epitomizes everything, really, that you're looking for, those are ones that are more difficult," Saints coach Sean Payton said of Mauti, who was elected as a special teams captain last year and who is also a New Orleans native and the son of former Saints special teams standout Rich Mauti.

"Listen, he's one of those guys that we think a lot of. He's got a tremendous amount of courage and heart," Payton said. "To go through what he had to go through this offseason, it obviously puts you behind when you're not involved in a full offseason. But when the summer finished up, he was able to kind of get back into the swing of things. I thought he played better probably towards the end of camp, particularly [Thursday] night. He had some of his better snaps in the special teams, and it just came down to a decision we had made. ...

"I'm pulling for him, and we'll see what transpires here over the weekend. But he's a special guy."

Mauti had a tackle-for-loss and a pass break-up in New Orleans' 14-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday, in addition to his special teams contributions.

And the 6-foot-2, 243-pounder seemed to think he had done enough to reclaim his place on the roster when he met with the media earlier Friday.

But Mauti rejected the idea that he felt "secure."

"'Secure' is not really a word that's really in my vocabulary, ever. I don't ever really get complacent in this job. You know, they always say the NFL's not for long," Mauti said. "But whether it's here or somewhere else -- obviously, I hope it's here -- you hope you do enough on tape and they keep you around. And we'll see."

Although Mauti acknowledged that it took him about a week to shake off the rust, he actually said he felt better this summer than ever before in his NFL career -- both mentally and physically -- because he was no longer dealing with the grueling disease.

"Actually, I haven't felt this normal in years," Mauti said. "I feel like the same player I was. I feel like I got my speed back, I got my strength back. I see no deficiencies whatsoever in any part of my game. And that was a goal getting back. So I feel great and ready to go."

Mauti wasn't the only veteran linebacker/special teams specialist to miss the Saints' cut Friday. Bryan Braman was placed on injured reserve with an unspecified ailment.

Those moves could mean good news for one of the Saints' summer breakout players, former Canadian Football League star linebacker Adam Bighill, though Payton refused to give any hints about moves that weren't announced Friday.

New Orleans still has nearly 20 moves left to make by Saturday's 4 p.m. ET deadline after trimming 17 players from the roster Friday.

Also released on Friday were safety Erik Harris, cornerbacks Damian Swann, Elijah Mitchell and Malik Foreman, linebackers Audie Cole and Jonathan Walton, defensive tackles Tony McDaniel, Justin Zimmer and Ashaad Mabry, offensive tackles Khalif Barnes and Jerry Ugokwe, tight end Braedon Bowman and receiver De’Quan Hampton. Receiver Corey Fuller was placed on injured reserve.

Also, the Saints confirmed that receiver Willie Snead will be suspended for the first three games.