The first cap casualty of the offseason has arrived.
The New Orleans Saints informed Pierre Thomas of his release Wednesday, according to a source. The move has not yet been posted on the league’s official transactions since Thomas did not take his exit physical in time.
In a message posted to Instagram, Thomas said his farewells to the city, his fans, and teammates.
“I want to thank the New Orleans Saints organization, all my coaches, my teammates, and the Who Dat Nation for an amazing adventure,” he wrote. “I have so many wonderful memories I will never forget. I am thankful to have spent the past 8 years in the great city of New Orleans!
“As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end but I’m not done yet.”
Releasing Thomas, 30, will save the Saints $1.735 million against the salary cap. The team needs to trim around $20 million more by March 10.
Battling injuries last season, Thomas rushed for 222 yards on 45 carries and caught 45 passes for 378 yards. His rushing total was the lowest mark of his eight-year career.
Thomas signed a three-year, $6.9 million contract last offseason that saved New Orleans $1.33 million against the 2014 cap. By releasing Thomas, the Saints will carry $830,000 in dead money next season.
Thomas joined the Saints as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Illinois in 2007. He’s amassed 3,745 rushing yards and 2,608 receiving yards over his career.
In the run to Super Bowl XLVI, Thomas amassed 98 total yards and scored two touchdowns in the NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings. He then scored a touchdown and collected 85 total yards in the Super Bowl against Indianapolis, helping the Saints to a 31-17 win.
Guard Jahri Evans, wide receiver Marcus Colston, punter Thomas Morstead, quarterback Drew Brees, and tackle Zach Strief are the only members of the Super Bowl team still under contract.
Center Jonathan Goodwin and wide receiver Robert Meachem are set to reach free agency.
How the Saints move forward at running back remains to be seen. If a deal is not reached by Saturday, Mark Ingram can begin negotiating with other teams and sign with one as soon as March 10.
The team currently only has Khiry Robinson, Tim Hightower, who was signed to a prove-it deal earlier this offseason after being sidelined since 2011 with knee injuries, and Edwin Baker under contract. Travaris Cadet is a restricted free agent.
The biggest impact of Thomas’ release will likely come in the screen-passing game, where Brees completed 29-of-32 passes to running backs last season for 220 yards with one touchdown.
This isn’t a new position for the Saints. While many of the moves were the result of injuries or ineffectiveness, the team parted ways with Jon Vilma, Will Smith, Roman Harper, Jabari Greer, Darren Sproles, and Lance Moore last offseason. Some of those moves were made to simply create cap space.
And Thomas is likely only the first domino to fall this offseason.
The team also has to make decisions on players like Evans ($11 million) and fellow guard Ben Grubbs ($9.6 million), Colston ($9.7 million), and linebacker David Hawthorne ($6.01 million), who all carry large cap figures
According to an NFL Network report, the Saints have also began shopping linebacker Curtis Lofton, who counts $9.25 million against the 2015 cap.
If the Saints find a trade partner, the team would carry $5 million in dead money on the books.
If Lofton isn’t traded, his deal carries a $4.5 million roster bonus, which could be converted to a signing bonus. Doing so would save $3 million against the 2015 cap.
When asked recently if he would be willing to re-work his current deal to help the team save some money, Lofton, who recorded 145 tackles last season, responded by saying, “It depends.”
Another report indicated New Orleans is also shopping pass rusher Junior Galette, though it could be difficult to find a trade partner since $11.75 million of his salary for 2015 would transfer to the new team. The Saints would carry only $3.7 million in dead money.
Releasing Thomas and Lofton is an interesting development since Saints coach Sean Payton recently told Pro Football Talk that he felt a lack of leadership contributed to the team struggling to a 7-9 finish last season.
“I think the price of that experience and leadership hurt us some,” Payton said, referencing the veteran players cut last offseason. “I think there’s going to have to be a few guys we look at in free agency. I also think we have a good, young nucleus of players, a good locker room, by and large. And yet you can never take that for granted.”
Thomas, who was one of the team’s leaders, was a major part of that nucleus. Now the Saints not only have to replace his production, they’ll need to find a way to fill the void in leadership.