Sean Payton had no other choice. Garrett Hartley’s wild inconsistency finally did him in.
Hartley missed eight field goals this season (22 of 30), including two against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. His final miss as a Saints, a 26-yarder, might have been the ugliest of his career.
While Hartley made a career-best 14 field goals from 40-plus yards this season, his struggles inside the 40 are well-documented (four misses this season). It seemed the shorter the field goal, the more treacherous it was.
A conversation I had with someone close to the Saints organization a couple of years ago has resonated with me since. He said Hartley has a great leg, plenty of talent and could be great… if he ever gets the mental part of the game down.
We see how that turned out.
Hartley, 27, will likely land with another team and get a chance to resurrect his career, but his star-crossed run with the Saints is over. It started in grand fashion in 2008, with Hartley making all 13 of his attempts in eight games. But his field goal percentage dipped to 73.3% this season, good for 30th in the NFL, and the worst of his career by far. Hartley’s career average is 81.2%.
Surely the decision by Sean Payton was a difficult one, but that’s why he makes the big bucks. Payton has to do what’s best for his team and his kicker became a liability.
Now, with two games remaining in the regular season, and the kicking game likely to play a part in one or more of the finishes, the Saints have to sign a kicker who hasn’t been with the team all season. It’s a risk, but so was keeping Hartley.
Hartley had a lot of shortcomings during his Saints career. He created a lot of drama. Some of his misses were maddening. Still, he made the biggest kick in franchise history when he booted the Saints into the Super Bowl. He then made three big kicks in the Super Bowl that propelled the Saints to their first World Championship.
For those accomplishments, Saints fans should always be grateful and appreciative. Remember the good that he did. Remember the dreams he made come true.