METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have begun trimming their salary cap by parting ways with one of their longest-tenured players, running back Pierre Thomas. A league source confirmed that the team has let Thomas know it plans to release him.
Although Thomas did not confirm the release, he thanked the fans and organization for his time in New Orleans on Twitter:
I want to thank the New Orleans Saints organization, all my coaches, my teammates and the Who Dat Nation for an amazing adventure
— Pierre Thomas (@Pierre_Thomas) March 4, 2015
Thomas, 30, is likely to be the first of multiple cuts for the Saints, who are more than $15 million over the salary cap after restructuring the contract of safety Jairus Byrd on Thursday.
The Saints will save at least $1.735 million by releasing Thomas (or $2.15 million if they designate it as a post-June 1 release).
The NFL Network reported that the Saints also are shopping linebacker Curtis Lofton in a possible trade. Other veterans who are candidates for releases or pay cuts include receiver Marques Colston, guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, linebackers Junior Galette and David Hawthorne and defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley.
However, the Saints also can save more than $20 million by converting several roster bonuses into signing bonuses, so their situation isn't as daunting as it seems. Most player moves will be for football reasons as well as financial ones.
That process started Thursday as the Saints restructured Byrd's contract to free up $4.8 million against the salary cap, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates. Byrd was due a $6 million roster bonus this year, which will now become a signing bonus and count just $1.2 million against the cap for each of the next five years.
Thomas' release isn't entirely surprising because he took a backseat role to leading rusher Mark Ingram last season, serving as more of a third-down specialist. Thomas agreed to a pay cut to stay with the team at this time last year.
However, Ingram is now an unrestricted free agent, runner/receiver Travaris Cadet is a restricted free agent, and the Saints traded away fellow all-purpose back Darren Sproles last year. So the Saints are suddenly thin at the once-overcrowded position. New Orleans likely will either re-sign Ingram or add a replacement in free agency or the draft to pair with Khiry Robinson, among other backup candidates.
Thomas has long been one of the Saints' most popular and underrated players. Quarterback Drew Brees called him the "best all-purpose back in the league" last summer.
Thomas is the fourth leading rusher in franchise history with 3,745 yards since being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois in 2007. But he was equally valuable as a receiver out of the backfield and as a pass protector. His 327 career receptions are the most by a running back in team history. He ranks in the top seven in total yards from scrimmage (6,353) and total touchdowns (41).
And Thomas is perhaps best known for his prowess as a screen-pass weapon -- highlighted by his 16-yard screen-pass touchdown in Super Bowl XLIV.
News of Thomas' release was earlier reported by The New Orleans Advocate and the NFL Network.