Wednesday is usually one of the busiest days of the week for an NFL team because it’s the first day of practice for the upcoming game Sunday.
Wednesday was that and more for New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.
He held his daily news conference five hours earlier than usual to announce four roster moves — including the release of veteran kicker Garrett Hartley —and that rookie Terron Armstead will make his first start at left tackle in Sunday’s huge NFC South showdown at Carolina.
Even though the Saints cut Hartley and cornerback Chris Carr on Tuesday, moves that were released on the NFL’s transaction wire, the team didn’t officially announce them until Wednesday.
Their roster spots were filled by kicker Shayne Graham, who spent seven seasons of his 12-year career with the Cincinnati Bengals, and safety Eric Frampton, a seven-year veteran who excels on special teams.
Payton, who was openly critical of his team’s performance after Sunday’s 27-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams, said the unusual late-season changes for a team that will likely be in the playoffs wasn’t for effect.
“You don’t do that,” Payton said. “At least we don’t.”
When asked how the moves were viewed by the team, Payton said he couldn’t speak for his players before noting they can win the division title and nail down the No. 2 seed for the playoffs Sunday.
“I think spirits were down after the loss,” he noted. “Our guys are pretty resilient, though. We’ll bounce back. I think they all understand the nature of this business.”
Both quarterback Drew Brees and linebacker Curtis Lofton, two of the team’s captains, said they knew changes would be coming after the Saints failed miserably against a 5-8 Rams team.
“Sean flat-out said, ‘There’s probably going to be some changes made around here, and some of you won’t like it,’” Brees said of the transactions and demotion of tackle Charles Brown, who was benched in the third quarter.
“I would definitely say you’re on notice,” Lofton said. “The thing about this league is you’re being evaluated every time you step out on the football field, whether it’s in practice or whether it’s in a game.
“When you make a move like that, it’s telling everyone: ‘You’re accountable. And you’re not just accountable to the players, but you’re accountable to this organization and to these fans.’ When you don’t go out and execute and play the way you should play, then there are consequences.”
Payton admitted it was tough to part with Hartley, a six-year veteran who helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV in 2009.
Hartley was connecting on 84.5 percent of his field-goal attempts going into this season, but struggled at midseason in misfiring on four of six attempts.
He had a 36-yard field goal blocked by the Rams and shanked a 26-yarder that sealed his fate. He was 22-of-30 this season, dropping him to 81.2 percent for his career.
“He responded very well earlier in the year when he had a handful of misses,” Payton said. “But then it was more difficult to see (him miss) the shorter-range field goal. You spent a lot of time giving it thought, and ultimately you go with your gut.”
That’s not to say it didn’t hurt, Payton said, after cutting a player that kicked a game-winning field goal in overtime of the NFC Championship game in 2009 and then had three field goals of 40 yards or longer in the Super Bowl.
“When you do something and win a championship like that, it is a little bit stronger bond between everyone that was on that team on that bus ride home and a part of it. So absolutely (it’s tough),” he said.
Punter Thomas Morstead was among those who felt for Hartley after he was released.
Morstead said he spoke with his close friend on the plane ride home from St. Louis and they had dinner Monday night. A somber Morstead said it’s a part of the game.
“It’s the NFL,” he said. “I guess this is part of what makes it special. It’s precious. You can be fired as quick as that. It’s tough, but it’s another reminder.”
“Your heart hurts for (Hartley) with some of the struggles we’ve had and he’s had this year,” Brees said. “That’s kind of a shakeup, but it’s also a reality check. That could be any one of us if we’re not getting the job done.”
Only one player was held out Wednesday when the Saints returned to practice.
Safety Rafael Bush, who plays in the dime package, did not participate because of an ankle injury that has kept him out of the past two games.
Only three players were listed as having limited participation: linebacker Keyunta Dawson (calf), strong safety Roman Harper (hip) and tight end Josh Hill (hamstring).
Dawson has been sidelined for the past three games, while Hill missed last week’s game.
For the Panthers, tight end Greg Olsen (toe) and running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) did not practice, while wide receiver Steve Smith (finger) was limited.