The New Orleans Saints have parted ways with four defensive veterans and members of their 2009 Super Bowl championship team: linebacker Jonathan Vilma, safety Roman Harper, cornerback Jabari Greer and defensive end/outside linebacker Will Smith.

They were released on Wednesday as salary-cap casualties.

"These were not easy decisions to make," general manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement. "Since we acquired them, Jabari, Roman, Will and Jonathan have all been excellent players on the field for us. Each of them were integral parts in turning this program around and winning a Super Bowl. They were a great example to our players as team leaders in the locker room as well.

"Will and Roman were two of the better draft picks we have made. Jonathan Vilma has been one of our best trades ever and Jabari Greer has been one of our best free agent signings. These are the kinds of players and people you hope to acquire.

"However, a new NFL year is about to begin and, with the start of free agency in March, these difficult moves allow us to position our team under the salary cap to move forward for 2014."

Saints head coach Sean Payton said the four players are a huge loss for the team.

"I have coached and been around a lot of great players and I put these four guys right there at the top," Payton said. "Jabari, Roman, Will and Jonathan all represent and epitomize what we look for in our players. These are disciplined, smart, tough and team-oriented individuals. They all played an important role in helping this team and this city win its first Super Bowl and they have all enjoyed multiple playoff appearances and wins."

Vilma (6-1, 230) was originally selected by the New York Jets in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft out of the University of Miami. He made an immediate impact as the Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Vilma was acquired by the Saints in a trade in the 2008 offseason and in six seasons appeared in 70 games with 68 starts patrolling the middle of the New Orleans defense and recorded 530 tackles, eight sacks, six interceptions, 27 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.

Harper (6-1, 200) was the club's second-round draft choice in 2006 out of Alabama. In eight seasons, he appeared in 108 games and started 104 of them. Harper registered 743 tackles, the highest total by a Saint since 2006. He also had 17 sacks, seven interceptions, 53 passes defensed, 13 forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Greer (5-11, 180) is a 10-year NFL veteran who was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Buffalo Bills in 2004 out of the University of Tennessee. After spending his first five NFL seasons in Buffalo, Greer was signed by New Orleans as a free agent in 2009.

In five seasons with the Saints, Greer appeared in 63 games with 60 starts and recorded 290 tackles, nine interceptions with two returned for touchdowns, 68 passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Smith (6-3, 282) is a 10-year NFL veteran who was selected by the Saints in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft. The former Ohio State first-team All-American made an immediate impact on the Saints as a rookie, recording 7.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. Smith appeared in 139 career games with 120 starts for the Saints and posted career totals of 363 tackles, 67.5 sacks, two interceptions, 24 passes defensed, 19 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.