NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers

The New Orleans Saints are expected to lose their longest-tenured player in quarterback Drew Brees this offseason. On Thursday, they parted ways with their second-longest-tenured player in 12-year veteran punter Thomas Morstead. Faced with a precarious 2021 salary cap situation with the official start of free agency fast approaching, the Saints announced they have released the 34-year-old Morstead, who's spent his entire NFL career in New Orleans, saving at least $2.5 million.

"Thomas Morstead has been the epitome of the consummate pro since the day we selected him in the 2009 NFL Draft," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said in a team statement. "He has been a remarkable punter and an outstanding leader in the locker room and eight-time team captain. His work in the community has been nothing short of remarkable. We know that as we approach the beginning of the NFL calendar year that very difficult decisions have to be made and this certainly falls into this category. We appreciate the dedication and professionalism that Thomas has brought to our organization from the moment he joined our team and sincerely wish both he and his family the best."

A fifth-round draft pick out of Southern Methodist University, Morstead became synonymous with the Saints over the course of his 12 seasons, appearing in 190 games and logging a 41.6 career net-yards-per-punt average -- the second-best all-time mark since the league began tracking the statistic in 1976. Also the Saints' primary kickoff specialist for six years, he was a 2012 Pro Bowl selection and successfully converted an onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV, New Orleans' only Super Bowl victory.

At 34 and coming off a 2020 season that saw him post the lowest yards-per-punt average of his career, however, Morstead was widely considered a potential cap casualty. He was due $4.5 million in 2021, as well as $4.75 million in 2022 on the final two years of a four-year, $15.6 million extension signed in 2018.

The veteran told reporters immediately after his release Thursday that he intends to play elsewhere in 2021.