Mon Jan 21 6:29pm ET
By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer
In this Dec. 23, 2018 file photo, New Orleans Saints linebacker Craig Robertson (52) reacts to the crowd as he runs off the field after their victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in an NFL football game in New Orleans. On Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, the Saints will host the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC championship game. (AP Photo/Bill Feig, File)
New Orleans Saints linebacker Craig Robertson (52) leaves the field after overtime of the NFL football NFC championship game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in New Orleans. The Rams won 26-23. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson arrives before the NFL football NFC championship game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
METAIRIE, La. (AP) Saints punter Thomas Morstead is having a tougher time taking the high road after a second consecutive season ended in stunned disappointment - this time because of officiating, rather than an opponent's late-game heroics.
Morstead drew headlines for his sportsmanship - not to mention an outpouring of financial support for his charitable endeavors - by volunteering to return to the field from the visitor's locker room in Minnesota for a required extra point try after the Vikings had ended the Saints' 2017-18 playoff run with a long, improbable touchdown as time expired.
''Last year we felt like we got beat; they made a play and we didn't stop them,'' Morstead said. ''As tough as that was, I think as a player you can handle that. This just feels a little dirty.''
Saints players spent Monday struggling to stomach the fact that they were conducting exit interviews and cleaning out their lockers when they thought they should be preparing to play in the Super Bowl.
They remained incredulous over two officials' reluctance to throw a flag when Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman delivered an improperly early and high hit on intended receiver Tommylee Lewis that could have been penalized for pass interference or helmet-to-helmet contact. A penalty would have allowed the Saints to mostly run out the clock before trying a go-ahead field goal.
Instead, the Saints took a three-point lead with 1:41 left, and the Rams came back to tie it at the end of regulation and win, 26-23, in overtime.
Acceptance wasn't coming easy.
Even Saints owner Gayle Benson released a statement on pledging to ''aggressively pursue changes'' in NFL policies to promote more ''fairness and integrity'' on the field.
''No team should ever be denied the opportunity to reach the title game (or simply win a game) based on the actions, or inactions, of those charged with creating a fair and equitable playing field,'' Benson's statement read. ''As is clear to all who watched the game, it is undeniable that our team and fans were unfairly deprived of that opportunity.''
Decisive personnel decisions and aggressive play-calling were among the signs that the Saints were all-in to win the Super Bowl this season.
They traded for Teddy Bridgewater late in the preseason in an effort to ensure quarterback Drew Brees' backup would have the combination of experience and talent they felt necessary to preserve championship aspirations in the event Brees was injured.
The move also provided more flexibility to employ versatile third-string QB Taysom Hill in a variety of roles on offense and special teams. They played to win and win big, regularly keeping the offense on the field on fourth down and executing several fake punts. They were bent on winning the No. 1 seed, viewing two home games in the deafening din of the Superdome as the surest route to this season's Super Bowl in Atlanta.
Saints players also professed that the chemistry they achieved in their locker room was rare.
''That's the hardest thing about this season'' ending,'' said linebacker Craig Robertson, whose contract is up. ''I've never been so close with so many guys on a team in my life.''
Now they'll have to start over, and that means at least a few roster moves. Free agents include running back Mark Ingram, who has said he does not want to leave but has a professional obligation to keep his options open.
Defensive end Alex Okafor could opt out, which might be in his interest given that he was sharing snaps this season with first-round draft choice Marcus Davenport.
Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, defensive back P.J. Williams and Bridgewater also are among those due to be unrestricted free agents, while tight end Ben Watson is retiring.
The 40-yeear-old Brees is under contract for one more season and sounded confident after Sunday's game that he'd be back.
Before the team went its separate ways, the shared message seemed to be that after they've taken some time to rest and decompress, they have to summon the determination to return with the same optimism, desire and determination as they did after losing in heartbreaking fashion in Minnesota the season before.
''That's the tough part about this game, is kind of the emotional investment for guys to physically lay it on the line every week and when it's over, it's kind of like getting broken up with somebody that you love,'' Morstead said. ''Some people are kind of never able to love the same again after that. It's hard to come back and put your heart and soul into it just as hard as you did the last time.
''That's why it's so important to have the right guys in the locker room, because when you have the right guys, they're kind of able to be vulnerable and accept it, take it, take it on the chin and find a way to come back the next year and emotionally invest 100 percent again,'' Morstead added. ''So, hopefully we can do that.''
The Dallas Cowboys declined the option on wide receiver Terrance Williams for the 2019 season on Monday, making him an unrestricted free agent in March, according to sources. Williams, 29, played in just three games in 2018 due to injury and a suspension and had two catches for 18 yards. He was never much of a contributor in Dallas' offense and hasn't scored a touchdown since 2016. Even if Williams latches on with another team, he's unlikely to be on the fantasy radar.
The San Francisco 49ers are expected to use the franchise tag on kicker Robbie Gould if they are unable to work out a multi-year contract extension. San Fran hasn't used the tag since 2012 with safety Dashon Goldson. The franchise tag for a kicker is expected to be around $5 million for one season. In the last two years with the Niners, Gould has made 72 of 75 field-goal tries and ranks as the second most accurate kicker in NFL history (87.745 percent) in his 14 years. Levi's Stadium isn't the easiest place to kick due to frequent wind, but Gould has plenty of experience kicking in bad conditions from his days in Chicago. With San Francisco's offense expected to improve with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon back healthy, Gould could be a fantasy sleeper at the position.
New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. was sought after by the New England Patriots ahead of the last season's trade deadline, according to NBC's Chris Simms, who reported New England was the team 'most aggressively pursuing' Beckham at that point of time.
Fantasy Spin: The Patriots obviously settled on Josh Gordon, but his status is such that Beckham could easily be a target of theirs again in 2019. While Gordon may be able to return again at some point in 2019, New England knows it can't count on him for any length of time. The Patriots' biggest need may be an outside receiver, and the prospect of playing the next two to three years with Tom Brady could be too tantalizing for the team to pass up if they are willing to pay the price to get Beckham.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen was "OK" after being involved in a minor car accident in Los Angeles on Saturday, and no injuries were reported. In one of the worst offenses in football in his rookie year, Rosen looked pretty bad in his 14 games played. He completed 55.2 percent of his passes for 2,278 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His terrible offensive line didn't make it easier on him, and he dealt with a lack of weapons around him. Arizona should look to bolster their playmakers around him this season, but Rosen probably won't improve drastically overnight. Until further notice he'll be a weak QB2 with upside.
Houston Texans impending free-agent LB Jadeveon Clowney is unlikely to receive a long-term deal, in the opinion of MMQB's Peter King, because he's not the worker bee that some others are on defense. He's likely to receive the franchise tag.
Indianapolis Colts impending free-agent WR Dontrelle Inman could be a fit for the Minnesota Vikings, according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com, and Barnwell believes Inman's size would add a different element to Minnesota's passing attack.
Green Bay Packers impending free-agent DL Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle) could receive another 'prove-it deal' to remain with the team, according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com.
Free-agent wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was involved in a car crash near downtown Denver early Saturday, according to Denver police. Thomas' vehicle rolled over after he lost control. He and a male passenger suffered minor injuries and were taken to the hospital, while a female passenger sustained possible serious injuries that weren't life-threatening. The cause of the crash is being investigated, but it doesn't appear that drugs or alcohol played a role. Thomas was released by the Texans last Tuesday after his season ended prematurely due to a torn left Achilles. The 31-year-old had 59 catches for 677 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games with the Broncos and Texans in 2018. He's in danger of missing the start of the regular season and won't have a hot free-agent market for his services. As of now, it's looking like Thomas won't be one to draft in standard-sized leagues in 2019.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski remains non-committal about his playing future, but he has shown up to Gillette Stadium multiple times over the last couple of weeks. Gronk might just be receiving treatment for his thigh, but ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss views it as the tight end being in a good place with how the season ended. Gronkowski will be 30 if he plays in 2019, and he remains a big injury risk that looked much slower in 2018. He'd still be a TE1 if he returns for another season, but Gronk is no longer elite at a very weak position.
Washington Redskins senior vice president of football operations Doug Williams said QB Alex Smith (leg) hopefully will be able to play at some point in 2019.
Fantasy Spin: Smith suffered a serious leg injury and there is still not definite timetable for his return. The Redskins likely will add at least one more quarterback this season, but owners in all fantasy leagues probably should avoid the Redskins quarterback situation next season.
San Francisco 49ers restricted free-agent RB Raheem Mostert likely will receive a tender offer this offseason and could even receive a multi-year extension from the team.
San Francisco 49ers impending free-agent Alfred Morris is not expected to re-sign with the 49ers this offseason.
Buffalo Bills WR Zay Jones has the ability to be a slot receiver and played the position during his college career, in the opinion of BuffaloBills.com's Chris Brown.
Fantasy Spin: Jones is coming off a decent season with 652 yards and seven touchdowns. He likely will be a top-three receiver for the Bills next season and could be a late-round option in fantasy leagues.
New England Patriots impending free-agent TE Dwayne Allen could re-sign with the Patriots this offseason, but he would likely have to accept a pay cut, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Mike Reiss. Several people in the Patriots organization like Allen's professional approach, and he has been around Gillette Stadium over the last few weeks.
New York Jets impending free-agent CB Buster Skrine appears unlikely to re-sign with the Jets this offseason since the team has CB Parry Nickerson ready to replace him at cornerback, in the opinion of the New York Post's Brian Costello.
New York Jets impending free-agent DT Steve McLendon appears unlikely to re-sign with the Jets this offseason, in the opinion of the New York Post's Brian Costello.
Los Angeles Rams impending free-agent DE Dante Fowler, DT Ndamukong Suh and S Lamarcus Joyner likely will not receive the franchise tag this offseason, in the opinion of ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio.
San Francisco 49ers impending free-agent PK Robbie Gould could be an option for the franchise tag this offseason, in the opinion of ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio.
Buffalo Bills impending free-agent DT Jordan Phillips said he is having contract talks with the Bills.
New Orleans Saints impending free-agent RB Mark Ingram likely will not receive the franchise tag this offseason, in the opinion of ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio.
Fantasy Spin: The Saints likely will go with Alvin Kamara as their main running back next season and probably will be a No. 1 running back in most fantasy leagues. Ingram should receive interest from several teams during free agency and could be a No. 2 fantasy back depending on his situation.