Lewis was known as "Beer Man" because he drove a beer truck
before getting a tryout with his hometown team and making the
roster at age 29, soon becoming the team's star return man.
He was wildly popular among fans and his departure merited a
statement from team owner Tom Benson.
"Michael is part of the fabric of our community and will always
have a special place in the history of our club," Benson said in a
news release. "The way he made our team, as a player who worked
hard, wasn't drafted, supported his family and followed his dream,
is unique and something we're all proud to be a part of."
General manager Mickey Loomis said both men were important to
"Michael is a New Orleans native and deservedly has a special
place in the hearts of our fans. Willie had been with our team
longer than any other current player. This is a situation where we
had to make a decision on what made the most sense for our club,
and it also gives Michael and Willie a chance to explore their
opportunities before training camps open around the league."
Lewis joined the Saints in 2000 as a member of the club's
practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster for eight
games in 2001, and in 2002 played in all 16 games for the first
time in his career.
He departs as the clubs all-time leader in kickoff returns (243
for 5,903 yards) and punt returns (142 for 1,482 yards). He has
four touchdown returns -- three on kickoffs and one punt return. In
2002, he set team single-season records for kickoff return yardage
(1,807) and punt return yards (625), was voted to the Pro Bowl and
selected to the Associated Press All-Pro team. His 2,432 combined
return yards that season set an NFL record.
In 2004, his last full season, he ranked third in punt returns
in the NFC with 382 yards on 34 returns. He ranked sixth in the
conference that season in kickoff returns with 1,215 yards on 51
returns, including a 96-yard touchdown.
Lewis injured his left knee in the 2005 season and missed much
Whitehead joined the Saints in 1999. Like Lewis, he was
undrafted. He played in NFL Europe before getting an opportunity
with the Saints.
He had 266 tackles (168 solo), 24.5 sacks, a pair of forced
fumbles and three fumble recoveries in his career. In 2004, he was
voted by his teammates the winner of the Ed Block Courage Award, an
honor bestowed on a player who best exemplifies the principles of
sportsmanship and courage.
In 2003, Whitehead earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week
honors for his performance at Tampa Bay (Nov. 2) after recording
five solo tackles, a career-high three sacks and a forced fumble.
He suffered from dehydration and was admitted to a local hospital
after the game.
The Saints also waived rookie tackle Pete Dyakowski, an
undrafted free agent from LSU.