"Joe really wanted to see where his value is around the league for his services," general manager Mickey Loomis said. "With as much as Joe has meant to the Saints and to New Orleans, we don't want to impede his desire to do so, and we have kept the door open for him to return to our team."
Horn, who was the most frequent spokesman for the players during their Katrina-enforced exile during the 2005 season, had caught 523 passes for 7,622 yards and scored a team-record 50 touchdowns since coming to New Orleans as a free agent in 2000. He ranks second in club history in catches and yardage, and he is the team's all-time leader in 100-yard receiving games with 27.
"Right now it's going around that (the Saints) wanted to
restructure my contract and I asked to be released, but this has
nothing to do with money," Horn said told The Fayetteville (N.C.)
Observer. "I wanted to retire as a Saint. I've been through hell
and back for that city and that organization. If I wanted out of
New Orleans that bad, I would have just kept my mouth shut and let
them move the team to San Antonio.
"I just don't think [coach] Sean Payton wanted me back. I asked
to be released because I felt betrayed by a head coach who wanted
to prove he could win without Joe Horn."
Horn, who turned 35 in January, missed the Saints' last four regular season games in 2006 and both playoff games because of a groin injury.
He had 37 catches for 679 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season.
In May 2005, Horn signed a six-year extension that would have paid him about $42 million for the life of the contract. Next season, he was to be paid about $4.45 million and receive a $1 million roster bonus later this month.
Horn was by far the Saints' best receiver during his first five seasons with the team. In 2004, he had 1,399 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns.
In 2005, however, a hamstring injury caused his numbers to drop dramatically to 654 yards receiving and one touchdown. It was the first of two injury-plagued seasons the yielded numbers far below what he had put up earlier in the decade.
He still demonstrated flashes of his old self, catching touchdowns of 14 and 48 yards in the Saints dramatic 27-24 victory over Philadelphia on Oct. 15. But while he was injured, other, younger receivers emerged, including surprising rookie Marques Colston (1,038 yards, 8 TDs) and third-year former LSU star Devery Henderson (745 yards, 5 TDs).
Rookie running back Reggie Bush also was used as a receiver, both out of the backfield and lining up in the slot and led the Saints in receptions with 88 for 742 yards and two touchdowns.
The Saints also got solid contributions from third-year receiver Terrance Copper (385 yards, 3 TDs), whose playing time increased with Horn's injury and whom Saints coach Sean Payton liked when the two were with the Dallas Cowboys in 2004 and 2005.
Still, Payton spoke highly of Horn upon the receiver's release from the team.
"Joe's numbers speak for themselves, and throughout his career here he has been everything an NFL player should be in the community," Payton said. "He holds a special place to our fans because of his involvement in the city and his passion on the field. Decisions of this type arent easy, and we understand his desire to see what his value may be with other teams."
Horn was immensely popular among fans in New Orleans, not just
because of his play, but also because of his outgoing,
down-to-earth demeanor. He visited displaced New Orleans residents
in shelters after Katrina. His No. 87 jersey was omnipresent during
games in the Louisiana Superdome, and fans hung banners honoring
him from upper deck facades around the stadium.
He had his own radio show. And he was a regular at New Orleans
Hornets basketball games, sitting a couple rows from the court and
often one of the last people out of the stadium because he had
taken time to speak with fans who approached him to say hello, talk
Saints and wish him well for the upcoming season.
When the season ended, Horn said he wanted to remain in New
Orleans and believed he could continue to play at a high level, but
said from the outset that he did not intend to agree to a pay cut --
at least not without testing the free agent market first.
Horn was not immediately available to comment on his release
Thursday evening. Calls to his agent's office, cell phone and home
were not immediately returned.