KR Lewis, DE Whitehead cut by Saints
Updated: June 15, 2007, 5:54 PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Two undrafted players who went on to success with the New Orleans Saints, wide receiver and kick returner Michael Lewis and defensive end Willie Whitehead, were cut by the team Friday.
Lewis was known as "Beer Man" because he drove a beer truck before getting a tryout with his hometown team and making the roster at age 29, soon becoming the team's star return man.
He was wildly popular among fans and his departure merited a statement from team owner Tom Benson.
"Michael is part of the fabric of our community and will always have a special place in the history of our club," Benson said in a news release. "The way he made our team, as a player who worked hard, wasn't drafted, supported his family and followed his dream, is unique and something we're all proud to be a part of."
General manager Mickey Loomis said both men were important to the franchise.
"Michael is a New Orleans native and deservedly has a special place in the hearts of our fans. Willie had been with our team longer than any other current player. This is a situation where we had to make a decision on what made the most sense for our club, and it also gives Michael and Willie a chance to explore their opportunities before training camps open around the league."
Lewis joined the Saints in 2000 as a member of the club's practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster for eight games in 2001, and in 2002 played in all 16 games for the first time in his career.
He departs as the clubs all-time leader in kickoff returns (243 for 5,903 yards) and punt returns (142 for 1,482 yards). He has four touchdown returns -- three on kickoffs and one punt return. In 2002, he set team single-season records for kickoff return yardage (1,807) and punt return yards (625), was voted to the Pro Bowl and selected to the Associated Press All-Pro team. His 2,432 combined return yards that season set an NFL record.
In 2004, his last full season, he ranked third in punt returns in the NFC with 382 yards on 34 returns. He ranked sixth in the conference that season in kickoff returns with 1,215 yards on 51 returns, including a 96-yard touchdown.
Lewis injured his left knee in the 2005 season and missed much of 2006.
Whitehead joined the Saints in 1999. Like Lewis, he was undrafted. He played in NFL Europe before getting an opportunity with the Saints.
He had 266 tackles (168 solo), 24.5 sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in his career. In 2004, he was voted by his teammates the winner of the Ed Block Courage Award, an honor bestowed on a player who best exemplifies the principles of sportsmanship and courage.
In 2003, Whitehead earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance at Tampa Bay (Nov. 2) after recording five solo tackles, a career-high three sacks and a forced fumble. He suffered from dehydration and was admitted to a local hospital after the game.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press