METAIRIE, La. — Sean Payton recalled Garrett Hartley’s role in helping the Saints win the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl in 2009, his 40-yard field goal putting New Orleans in the big game and his three kicks keeping the team in the contest against Indianapolis.
But knowing what Hartley had done for Payton’s team and how he was playing this season are two separate things.
Ultimately, Payton made the hard move, releasing Hartley on Tuesday; they signed Shayne Graham in his place.
“When you win a championship like that, there’s a little bit stronger bond between everyone on that team, on that bus ride home and a part of it,” Payton said when asked Wednesday if it was hard separate the personal from professional aspect of making the decision
Hartley had a 36-yard field goal blocked and pushed a 26-yard attempt wide left in New Orleans’ 27-16 loss to St Louis, missed kicks that were the final nail in his career with the Saints.
The decision wasn’t one Payton made lightly.
“I think it was important to spend a lot of time (on it), as much time after the game (and) looking at it Monday, looking at it Tuesday, and kind of putting a little distance the recent game,” Payton said.
He had his worst year in 2010 when he finished making just 80 percent of his kicks. That year Payton brought in veteran John Carney to help mentor the young kicker and it worked.
That wasn’t the case this year. Hartley was having his worst statistical season of his career, going 22 of 30.Payton already had brought in a handful of kickers to try and push Hartley to get back on track.
From that history, though, Payton appears certain that Hartley won’t last on the market too long.
“I think he’s a tough guy who will respond,” Payton said. “I think he’s very resilient and I think that’s fairly common for the position.”
The final straw was the flubbed field goal in the final two minutes against St. Louis. The snap and hold were good; the kick was not. The kick never had a chance, hooking left immediately.
Payton quickly turned to special teams coach Greg McMahon and had a short conversation with him. While McMahon’s reaction can’t be printed, it’s clear the discussion wasn’t a good one.
“I think he had a great week of practice last week, and yet, it didn’t manifest itself in the game,” Payton said. “So, that was a tough decision.”
New Orleans now will turn to Graham, who has played with eight different teams since breaking into the NFL in 2001. He’s a career 85 percent kicker, having made 245 of his 287 career attempts. Most recently he was with the Texans in 2012, making 31 of 38 kicks.
Graham was one of five kickers brought in on Nov. 12 for a tryout, though the team ultimately stuck with Hartley. Payton thought Graham had the best workout that day.
“His workout was better,” Payton said. “He seemed to be a little bit more accurate, a little stronger. He was clearly better.”