Despite me, New Orleans Saint Morton Andersen makes NFL Hall of Fame
The decision to release Andersen was made in a meeting between head coach Jim Mora, personnel VP Bill Kuharich and me, the team’s Executive VP and salary cap manager. We were in the second year of the Salary Cap, and we were close to the Cap cliff, which is what happens when veteran teams that have had success try to keep as many of its key components as possible.
You can’t keep them all, and sometimes your favorite team is forced into making a football decision for financial reasons, something Jim Finks had predicted before he left us. Keep in mind that in the Cap’s early days, Benson had no interest in blanket renegotiations. His rationale was correct, that such now-common maneuvering was a way to skirt the Cap by pushing guaranteed money into future years. As chair of the Finance Committee, Benson was reluctant to take any measures that gave the appearance that his team was taking advantage of a loophole. His resolve was supported by the fact that arch-rival San Francisco wrote the early chapters of the book on Cap avoidance. His thought processes obviously have evolved since then, but in 1995 we needed about $1 million relief. Three players with similar salaries could provide that relief: offensive guard Chris Port, defensive lineman Pig Goff and Andersen. Port was a starter, Goff was a valuable backup and Andersen was 35 and his performance had declined the previous two years.
Reliable offensive and defensive linemen are hard to find, and Andersen appeared to be on the decline. His mid-range consistency, between 30 and 49 yards had been consistent, but Andersen’s bread and butter was kickoffs in the end zone and long field goals beyond 50 yards. Between 1982 and 1992, Andersen was successful beyond 50 yards a remarkable 51% of the time. However, during 1993, he was 1 for 5, and in 1994 he missed all six of his long attempts. Declining performance, increasing age and high salary can put a player in Salary Cap purgatory. The decision was made, and it was left to me to make the heretical announcement that one of the Saints most popular players was being terminated.
What followed were two indelible memories forever etched into my psyche. The Falcons picked up Andersen immediately, and brought him back to the Superdome the following week. Truth is stranger than fiction, and Andersen’s performance against his old team contained a little of each. That week, he was four for four as the Falcons defeated the Saints, and in Atlanta he duplicated the performance, going four for four in another Falcon win. In two wins over his old team, he had kicked eight field goals in eight attempts. In addition, when the season ended, Andersen had attempted nine field goals over 50 yards and made a remarkable eight of them. My second most indelible Morten memory was a comment made by my mother-in-law’s 70-something sister. A great Saints fan, she called me the night we terminated Andersen to ask why we had cut him. All her friends knew of her association with a Saints executive, and they were driving her crazy with their displeasure. I don’t know if she bought my explanation, but she was quick to inform me that she had done her best to defend me. Sort of. “I finally just had to tell them you weren’t blood,” she said, “You just married into the family!” Congratulations, Morten, even if you didn’t ask me to present you.
My new book, "Integrated: the Lincoln Institute, Basketball and a Vanished Tradition" is now available from the University Press of Kentucky or at Amazon.com.