New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton announced Wednesday morning that the team had released veteran kicker Garrett Hartley and replaced him with Shayne Graham.
Payton also announced that rookie Terron Armstead will start at left tackle Sunday instead of Charles Brown, who was benched during last week's game after giving up two sacks and some other quarterback pressures.
Hartley had missed two field-goal attempts in last Sunday's loss to the St. Louis Rams and his conversion rate (22 of 30 this season) was among the lowest in the NFL and nearly 13 percentage points below the league average.
"With what he's done and been a part of it's been difficult," Payton said Wednesday of the decision to release Hartley. "I think he had a great week of practice last week but it didn't manifest itself in the game. It was a tough decision.
"I think it was important to spend a lot of time (on reviewing the decision). Looking at it Monday, looking at it Tuesday, putting a little distance between the recent game."
Payton said he spent 30 minutes with Hartley talking about the decision.
"I think he is a tough guy who will respond," Payton said. "I think he is very resilient. I think it's very common to the position. I think he responded very well early in the year when he had a handful of misses but then again, it was more difficult to see the shorter range field goal (misses). Ultimately you go with your gut."
The Saints (10-4) are tied with the Carolina Panthers (10-4) for first place in the NFC South and the winner of Sunday's game in Charlotte likely will secure the division title and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Hartley joined the Saints in 2008 as a free-agent signee out of Oklahoma and is best known for his game-winning kick in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game following the 2009 season. The kick sent the Saints to their first Super Bowl where they defeated the Indianapolis Colts partly due to Hartley's three field goals.
Entering the season he had had made 60 of 71 field-goal attempts and 135 of 136 extra-point attempts. He missed the entire 2011 season with an injury.
"He's an exceptionally talented player, he's going to play in this league for a long time and have success," Payton said. "The way these doors open and close we just agreed that don't ever say never about being back with the team. But with that being said, with what he's done and been a part of it's difficult."
Graham, a Virginia Tech product who entered the NFL in 2001 with the Buffalo Bills, has made 245 of 287 field goals attempted, a career 85.4 percent rate. He is 368 out of 373 on extra points. In addition to Buffalo he has played for Carolina, Cincinnati (2003-2009), the New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans. He hasn't played in a game this season.
Sunday will be Armstead's first start. He is a 6-foot-5, 304-pound third-round draft pick out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
"I think Terron has improved during the course of the season, taking scout team reps, and it's time to see what he can do," Payton said. "I visited with Charles this morning and of course he is disappointed but I'm sure he'll handle this the right way and respond.
"There were a handful of things that happened in the game the other day that prohibited us from having success. This is one thing that I think is necessary right now for us."
The Saints also waived defensive back Chris Carr and signed safety Eric Frampton.
Frampton, a 5-11, 204-pounder out of Washington State, was a fifth-round selection of the Oakland Raiders in the 2007 NFL draft but he saw his first NFL action with Detroit and Minnesota (2008-11). His most recent game action came with Dallas in 2012. Payton said Frampton should help with the team's special teams units.