Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
METAIRIE, La. Veteran center Olin Kreutz has left the Saints after coming to the conclusion that he wasn't feeling the passion for the game anymore, his agent said Friday.
Kreutz missed two games with a left knee injury he suffered in the Sept. 25 game against Houston. It appears his passion for the game began fading around then, his agent Mark Bartelstein saying, 'it's been something that has been kind of building for a few weeks.'
The 14-year veteran came to New Orleans in August after being released by the Chicago Bears, the only team he had played with prior to joining the Saints. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and part of the Associated Press' All-Decade team as named in 2009.
'(He is) just always a guy (who) has to feel really good about the passion he has got for the game and the love he has got for the game,' Bartelstein said. 'He felt that slipping away and he's just not someone who can go to work every week and collect a pay check.
'It's not something he feels good doing. He feels like his heart wasn't in the right place. He's going to kind of step away.'
Kreutz was unavailable for comment Friday.
Coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis met with Kreutz earlier in the week to talk, a meeting that surprised the man in charge.
'I think maybe surprised a little bit. Earlier in the week we had a chance to visit and sit down and just talk about a lot of things,' Payton said. 'It's always difficult, especially when you talk about a player who I think is a Hall of Fame center. I think the challenge for all of us when the train begins to slow down and you begin to maybe feel like it's that time and make no mistake, the happens for every player, every coach, every owner there's a lot of emotions involved in that.'
Kreutz signed a one-year, $2 million contract with New Orleans after the Saints didn't re-sign Jonathan Goodwin, who took a free agent contract with the 49ers. The deal didn't include any signing bonus, so he only will be paid for the weeks he was on the 53-man roster, forgoing the rest of his contract.
He immediately stepped in in August with the first-team and started the first three games for New Orleans. But he injured his left knee in the first quarter of the third game and didn't return until the Saints played at Tampa Bay this past Sunday. That snapped a streak of 137 consecutive games started for Kreutz, at the time the second-highest total for an active player.
Brian de la Puente, a free agent who was on the Saints practice squad a season ago, started in place of Kreutz in Jacksonville and in Carolina.
That experience, the new starter said, will go a long way in helping him be comfortable the rest of the season.
'I've had a little bit of time in there with Carl and Jahri and our timing and everything and calls,' de la Puente said. 'We've gotten some reps in games which makes me feel confident about going in on Sunday and playing.'
The players knew something was off Wednesday when Kreutz wasn't there.
'I knew Wednesday when I was playing, getting reps, that something was going on so just prepare like I'm playing and that's kind of the approach I took all week,' de la Puente said. 'It turns I'm getting the start.'
Payton, for one, seems confident in the new starter.
'He's handled the transition,' Payton said. 'And Brian's a guy that learns quickly, so he knows what we're doing. I think he's benefitted a ton, just as Tennant has, from being around Olin and his experience. Just as he has in the weeks prior when Olin wasn't able to play, he'll be put in that starter's role.'