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John DeShazier: Jahri Evans helped transform New Orleans Saints

Posted Feb 12, 2016

Right guard had a decade of high-level production

Some cuts are deeper than others, even in the hardened business that is the NFL.

It’s not that they aren’t inevitable. Players rarely depart from franchises on their own terms. Injury, age, performance and salary individually, or collectively, will eventually gang up on even the best of them and lead to a change in job status.

But even given the inevitability of the business, some separations are a little more noticeable, a lot more emotional.

Like Jahri Evans’ severance from the New Orleans Saints on Monday, one of several moves the team has made this offseason, including releasing linebackers David Hawthorne and Ramon Humber.

In 10 seasons, Evans went from being a little-known, fourth-round draft pick from a school many didn’t know existed (Bloomsburg), to one of the best players in franchise history.

"Jahri has been a fantastic player for our team and an integral part of our success over the last 10 years," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "He's one of the toughest and smartest players I have ever been around in coaching and that coupled with his unselfishness and dependability made him one of the most respected players in our locker room. When we arrived in 2006, he was a part of our first draft class, which became the foundation for our 2009 championship team.”

The team’s unprecedented decade of offensive production coincided with Evans starting at right guard, playing at arguably the highest level in the NFL at his position, injuries – nagging or more serious than anyone ever would know – be damned, a 6-foot-4, 318-pound security blanket  who played every game in eight seasons and 153 in the regular season, plus 10 playoff games.

Only one offensive lineman in franchise history was more decorated than was Evans, and that guy – Willie Roaf – is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And while we can’t accurately predict Evans’ Pro Football Hall of Fame chances, I can confidently guarantee that he’ll join Roaf in the Saints Ring of Honor (only four inductees so far) and the Saints Hall of Fame.

"Since we drafted Jahri 10 years ago as a fourth round draft pick from Bloomsburg, he was an immediate contributor and integral part of the football team,” said Mickey Loomis, the Saints' executive vice president/general manager. “Jahri was a mainstay on the offensive line and became one of the best guards in the National Football League as being named to six consecutives Pro Bowls indicates. We would like to thank Jahri for all his contributions both on and off the field to the Saints and the New Orleans community and wish him the best of luck going forward."

Evans was a six-time Pro Bowler and a four-time All-Pro, a respected presence who was as appreciated for his standout ability as he was for his availability – and, specifically, the measures he underwent in order to assure his availability.

He missed five games in 2015, but he played in the final three. His workload was cut in training camp in a preservation effort, and his practice time was sliced during the season as he spent more and more time in the training room trying to make sure he was ready for Sunday, Monday or Thursday.

The Saints were out of playoff contention at the end of 2015, assured of consecutive non-winning seasons for the first time since Evans, receiver Marques Colston, tackle Zach Strief, quarterback Drew Brees and Coach Sean Payton joined the franchise in 2006. But for Evans, sitting would have been an affront to who he is, and was as a Saint.

To paraphrase, his words entering the season finale were that if he was healthy enough to play, he was going to play. That he wasn’t going to let down his teammates. That the season wasn’t what he or anyone in the franchise had hoped or expected it to be, but that he and his battered, 32-year-old body were expecting to play, and to play well, and to finish off the season with the win that would give New Orleans three victories in its final four games.

He did, and they did.

More than the honors, the division titles, the playoff wins and the Super Bowl victory, remember that about Evans’ career as a Saint.

More than the fact that he started every regular-season game he played, beginning with the opener on Sept. 10, 2006 against Cleveland, when he was a fresh-legged rookie, remember that the bespectacled giant spoke softly but carried a club – along with Brees, Colston, Strief and Payton – to a level of greatness that it never before had attainted.

Eventually, you knew that Monday had to come for Evans. It’ll come for all of them, at some point.

The franchise will part ways with them all, and it won’t at all be a shock that the player doesn’t get to make the call on how the split occurs. That’s the nature of the business.

But some cuts are deeper than others.

The franchise will turn the page and plug in another starter at right guard, the offense will continue to excel, and Evans may or may not move on and join another team. He may give his body a chance to heal, determine that he has more juice in the tank and try to ply his trade with another franchise, or he may decide that the rigors of 10 NFL seasons have been enough.

Either way, among the faces that won’t be on the roster in 2016, his will be among the most notable. He helped transform a franchise and helped lay the groundwork for a culture that the team continues to attempt to replicate each season, and that can’t be said of many players.

Remember that when saying that this player or that isn’t a “Jahri Evans,” it really isn’t an insult to that player. Because there have been very, very few Jahri Evans’ in the history of the Saints.

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