"Obviously something like that is a difficult decision for us as an organization," Payton said while announcing the move after Monday night's practice. "Here's a guy that has really been part of our program, certainly since we came here in `06 and well before that. He epitomized the type of player we're looking for. Certainly he's a guy we wish well and will miss."
Stinchcomb came into the season having started 80 straight games, and in that time had become close with the quarterback he protected, Drew Brees.
Brees called Stinchcomb "one of the greatest teammates I've ever had."
"He's a true pro," Brees said. "He's everything you want in a teammate, in a football player, in a man, in a leader ... He's been a mainstay for this team, for this offensive line for a long time, especially during our time here. I've had five great years with him. He'll always be one of my great friends, close friends. I wish him the best and his family. I'm not sure what's next for him but I'll always love that man."
The Saints drafted Stinchcomb out of Georgia in the second round, 37th overall, in 2003. Stinchcomb played in only 10 games with no starts during his first three seasons because of injuries, including a ruptured right patellar tendon that sidelined him for all of 2005. He returned and won the starting job in 2006, which was Payton's first season as coach, and had not missed a start since.
However, he played in pain for much of last season, after which he had surgery to repair a torn left quad muscle. Because of the lockout, he was unable to rehabilitate the injury at Saints headquarters, instead splitting time with the Georgia Bulldogs' training staff and with a private trainer in suburban New Orleans.
He said recently he was looking forward to playing healthy again this season.
That still may happen, but not in New Orleans, where he also has been among the most active players on the team in terms of his charitable work. If he doesn't find work as a lineman, he likely won't have trouble keeping busy. He has long talked of wanting to enroll in medical school after his football career ended.
In the meantime, Brees will have to get used to a new right tackle, with Strief, a five-year veteran out of Northwestern, appearing to have the edge at this time.
Brees referred to Strief as a "renaissance man" on the offensive line because he has played both tackle spots and also is regularly inserted as an eligible tight end.
"We've even thrown a pass to him, although don't bring that up with him," Brees said, referring to a short pass Strief dropped in the end zone last season. "So he's a guy I've got a lot of confidence in. I know he's been biding his time, waiting for his opportunity and I'm excited for him. I'm excited because I know how hard he's worked and he deserves to be in the position he is to fight for that job."
Stinchcomb had three years left on a five-year extension he signed in 2009. He was due about $2.25 million this season.
Although Strief was competing for playing time at the same spot, he said he and Stinchcomb were close.
"It's really bittersweet. It's like somebody coming and telling you that you're getting something you've always wanted but at the detriment to your brother," Strief said.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press