Sean Payton has made some difficult cuts this training camp. Without the aid of an offseason to make these decisions, tough cuts like RB Lynell Hamilton, CB Randall Gay and LB Danny Clark are compressed into the few weeks of training camp.
The toughest one of all so far though is starting right tackle Jon Stinchcomb, cut on Monday.
A widely loved player whose toughness was proven time and again, Stinchcomb had been the only man to start at right tackle for Sean Payton and Drew Brees.
"This was a decision that we spent a lot of time on and not something taken lightly at all," Payton said in a statement of the Saints' website. "I can tell you that everyone in this organization has a ton of respect for him. Again, it was a difficult decision. He’s been a big part of the past five seasons here."
Payton compared cutting Stinchcomb, the elder statesman of the offense but with a history of injury issues, to cutting Deuce McAllister after the 2008 season.
Stinchcomb, 6'5, 315, 31, played the 2007 NFC Championship game with one functioning arm. He started all 80 regular season games and all six playoff games of the Payton era.
He started last year despite knee and shoulder injuries, and spent the offseason rehabbing a knee injury away from the team. Stinchcomb had been troubled by the knee injury throughout the season, and had "cleanup" surgery after the season.
Stinchcomb was the longest-tenured Saint draft pick on the roster, part of the first draft class of Saints GM Mickey Loomis and the second round pick in 2003.
In a statement of the Saints' website, Loomis said, “We as an organization have the utmost respect for Jon and all that he has worked so hard to accomplish during his career. He’s exemplified professionalism, both on the field and in our community and been an outstanding player, teammate and mentor to many of our younger players. We respect the efforts and professionalism he brought to our team.”
After two years as a backup without showing much to the Haslett coaching staff, Stinchcomb was set to start in 2005 before a training camp patella tear suffered in goal line drills ended his season.
Stinchcomb was named the Saints' 2008 Man of the Year for his off-field work. The Saints re-signed Stinchcomb in 2009 to a new five year, $22.5 million deal with $12 million guaranteed. The Saints also re-signed Stinchcomb in 2007 and kept their offensive line intact.
In 2006, Stinchcomb emerged as the starting right tackle and never looked back. He was named to the Pro Bowl along with a record number of teammates in 2009.
The obvious choice to replace Stinchcomb is veteran Zach Strief, who said on Monday that Stinchcomb was like an older brother to him. Strief, who has never been given a starting job, said it was tough to get everything he finally wanted at the expense of a brother.
Strief, 6'7, 320, 27, has started seven games in his five year career for the Saints, at left tackle, but always in place of an injury to Jammal Brown or Jermon Bushrod.
Strief's prime competition for the job will be 2010 second round pick Charles Brown, who as a rookie needed an overhaul from a strength and conditioning standpoint. Brown, a collegiate left tackle and former tight end, will likely end up with Strief's job from previous seasons: as the utility offensive lineman who occasionally reports in as an eligible receiver, sixth offensive lineman.
Saints QB Drew Brees wrote on twitter Monday night, "Really tough to see Jon Stinchcomb go. He's everything you'd want in a teammate, friend, and leader. One of the best human beings there is."
LB Jonathan Vilma wrote on twitter, "Sad to see Jonathan stinchcomb leave the who dat family. wish him the best, he's a great man on and off the field."
Former Saints LB Scott Fujita, now a Cleveland Brown, wrote on twitter, "Just heard the news about John Stinchcomb down in New Orleans. Outstanding person, & one of the best teammates I've ever had."