Jay Richardson went back to work selling life and health insurance in Columbus, Ohio, after the New Orleans Saints cut him on Aug. 31. He arrived at his office at 9 a.m. Wednesday, attended three meetings and headed to the gym about 6 p.m. when he got an urgent phone call.
The Saints, who have several players out with injuries on defense, needed him to come back and play for them. Richardson didn’t think twice about it — he left his business partner in charge of the office, flew to New Orleans, signed a contract and practiced Thursday, three days before the Saints (1-0) face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1) on the road.
“I thought there was a chance it could all be over,” Richardson said after his first session back with the Saints. “But I played well in (the preseason), and if that had been the last (time) I played, I would have been able to live with that.”
A former Ohio State player, Richardson spent his first three years in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders, where Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan coached him for two seasons. He was in Seattle for part of a fourth year and showed up to training camp with the New York Jets in 2011 but didn’t make the team.
Richardson couldn’t catch on elsewhere. He obtained his license to sell insurance, helped start a company and dedicated himself to that.
However, he kept lifting weights and exercising in case an opportunity materialized, figuring that his time away from the league meant his body wasn’t as worn down as it otherwise would have been.
“You’ve got to be ready for anything,” Richardson said.
Ryan provided the opportunity Richardson awaited — the coordinator brought his old pupil to Saints training camp as a defensive end this preseason. Richardson switched to outside linebacker as Will Smith, Victor Butler, Junior Galette and Martez Wilson all suffered injuries.
Smith is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Butler also tore an ACL and for now is on the physically unable to perform list. Galette strained a hamstring, and Wilson dislocated an elbow, and they each missed all of the Saints’ preseason games.
Richardson proceeded to recover a fumble in an exhibition against the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 9. That fumble recovery was one of just four turnovers the Saints forced in the preseason, and it came on the heels of a sack he recorded in an intrasquad scrimmage a few days earlier.
He added two sacks against the Miami Dolphins in the preseason finale on Aug. 29, and it seemed there was a spot for him on the team.
But the Saints released Richardson two days later when they unveiled their 53-man roster.
“I knew they were going to have some tough decisions to make,” Richardson said in response to a question about whether he was surprised he’d been cut. “I wasn’t sure either way how it was going to shake out, but I was hoping.”
Coach Sean Payton on Thursday recalled telling Richardson, “You could end up back here soon.”
“He’s versatile,” Payton said. “He’s someone that played a lot of snaps and did a good job in the preseason.”
Then, defensive end Glenn Foster missed the 23-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons to open the season on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after he hurt his ankle against the Dolphins. Nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley (calf) and defensive end Tyrunn Walker (knee) both left the Falcons game early with injuries.
Galette returned against Atlanta, but Wilson was inactive. So the Saints reached out to Richardson, who accepted the deal they offered. He’s chosen to wear jersey No. 56 to honor one of his favorite football players, Lawrence Taylor, and because Foster took the No. 97 Richardson sported in the preseason.
To create room on the roster for Richardson, the Saints waived wide receiver Andy Tanner, who’s been on and off the practice squad in New Orleans since 2010 and remains eligible for it.
“He’s a great guy, a great player,” Richardson said when asked about Tanner. “I’ve got a good feeling he’ll probably be back, too. You just got to keep pushing.”