Thomas Morstead's NFL career will move on from New Orleans. On Thursday, the Saints released the most accomplished punter in franchise history after 12 seasons.
But Morstead will remain a New Orleanian, having established a reciprocal affection for the franchise and city that drafted, nurtured and supported him through his formative professional years, and embraced him further as he gave back through standout play on the field and charitable acts off of it.
"I've got 10 Mickey Loomis stories of encouragement and things that I'm sure that I could write down in a book one day," Morstead said of the Saints' executive vice president/general manager. "But one of those things was, I ran into Mickey at dinner after my second year.
"He asked me where I was living, I said, 'I'm renting this place.' He said, 'Oh, you haven't bought a place yet?' I said, 'You never know how things go and I don't want to be stuck.' He said, 'Thomas, we will not be letting you play anywhere else.' And I just thought maybe that's lip service, and so I continued to rent. And I got an extension after my third year, and it was a seven-year deal.
"So after that, we bought a place. I've lived here in the offseason for all of those years. It's been 12 years, so this definitely is home. My wife (Lauren) and I actually are finishing up building our home here, so this is where we're going to be regardless of what next step I have with football."
Morstead had the most accomplished steps as a punter in franchise history. He was an All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 2012, appeared in 190 career regular season games (fourth most in team history) and punted 692 times for a 46.5-yard gross average and a 41.6-yard net, second best in NFL history since the statistic first was recorded in 1976. He was the team's primary kickoff specialist from 2009-14; his most famous one was as a rookie in Super Bowl XLIV, when he successfully executed an onside kick – "Ambush" – to open the second half that was recovered by New Orleans and led to a touchdown.
Five times, Morstead has been named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week and his 15 playoff appearances are second most in franchise history.
"I'm just filled with a lot of gratitude and thanks to so many people," he said. "You kind of know that the train stops for everybody at some point with their current team. I'm a little bit sad and a little shocked, but it's just been an awesome, awesome experience. The whole thing has been amazing.
"I can't even remember what my expectations may have been coming out of college, but the experience has certainly surpassed anything I could have imagined. From winning a Super Bowl, representing the team at the Pro Bowl, being a team captain for a number of years – the whole experience has been outstanding and I'm indebted to a lot of people for that."
Morstead was the Saints' fifth-round draft pick (No. 164 overall) in 2009 and grew into the role of a team captain since 2013.
"It's a tremendous honor to be voted captain by your peers," he said. "People value different things in leadership, and I've obviously never been a guy that's leading the pregame huddle or anything like that. It's a unique thing to be a leader when you don't hit people in a sport that's full of hitting.
"And so I've tried to be a teacher, I've tried to be a coach on the field for young players, tried to get them up to speed as quickly as possible. I've tried to mentor players off the field with finances, and just making sure they have the things that are important, to make sure they're handling the awesome responsibility that they're given with making a good living.
"I've just tried to be a value add to all my teammates in any way that I can. That's been one of my favorite things to do, honestly, is to be somebody that guys can come ask questions to and feel like they're learning and growing and getting experience without having to go through the negative experiences themselves."
The manner in which Morstead embraced his role and teammates, is the manner in which he was received by New Orleans, he said.
"I've got some of my best friends here, that have been just awesome," he said, as he waged a losing battle with his tears. "I don't' want to say names because if I leave people out it'll be difficult, because there's so many people – neighbors, organizers of events, people that are on the ground trying to do little bits to just make where they live a little bit better.
"The people that have some of the least resources that are just the heart and soul of this town, that give everything they have and they're just incredibly inspiring. One of the things that a family member told me recently is that, 'You've been fortunate to understand how awesome and how grateful you've been during the experience.' You knew how good you had it while you had it.
"I was writing some things down last night just to kind of prepare for this and my wife came up with a good one. She said, 'You know, you guys have the best food in the world, but you guys have fed our souls.' And it's true. In every way we could be fulfilled, we have been. We're finishing our house here so no matter where I go play next, this is home.
"And I think what's been wonderful about just being down here (is) no one expects you to be perfect here. In New Orleans there's plenty of dysfunction, there's plenty wrong, there's plenty to be fixed, but I felt like authenticity was the only thing that was required to be accepted. And I just want to thank everybody for accepting us and our family, my kids. It's all they know. I'm sad to be moving on to another team, but I'm just filled with gratitude and love. I can't repay everybody for just the awesome experiences."
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