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.''
Philadelphia Eagles FS Rodney McLeod (knee) expects to be ready for training camp, and he's on schedule in his rehab from torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans restructured his contract Tuesday, June 18, which created $3.2 million in 2019 salary cap space.
Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy said he "feels good" about tight end Trey Burton (hernia) being ready for the start of training camp this summer. Burton had hernia surgery this offseason. The 27-year-old caught a career-high 54 passes (76 targets) for 569 yards and six touchdowns in his first year in Chicago with Nagy running the show. In this improving offense, Burton could improve further and will be a strong TE1 as long as he doesn't suffer any setbacks in training camp.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (ankle) has missed all of the team's offseason workouts as he recovers from ankle surgery, but he expects to be 100 percent healthy in time for training camp. Kelce is one of a kind at the tight end position and should be the first name off the board at the position in fantasy drafts despite his ankle injury. The 29-year-old caught a career-high 103 passes (150 targets) for 1,336 yards and 10 touchdowns last year and has superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes throwing him passes. Kelce has now gone over 1,000 yards receiving in three straight seasons. He's pretty good.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Carlos Hyde, who was signed as a free agent this offseason, has occasionally lined up next to starter Damien Williams in the backfield at minicamp and has frequently been used as a receiver. "It's not just a one-dimensional running back here. You do it all. You line up at receiver. You actually run routes. You're not just a decoy," Hyde said. It's all fine and dandy right now, but it remains to be seen how much run Hyde will actually get when the games matter. At best, he's a handcuff for Williams owners in fantasy drafts. The 28-year-old floundered with both the Browns and Jaguars in a disappointing 2018 season. He had 10 combined receptions in 14 games last year.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been very impressed with rookie wide receiver D.K. Metcalf in offseason practices. "Its great seeing DK [Metcalf] make his plays. I think DK is looking really, really special," Wilson said. "He can do anything and everything and hes tremendous." The second-round pick isn't just a physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 229 pounds with a 4.33-yard 40-yard dash and 40.5-inch vertical jump. Wilson has been impressed with his knowledge of the game as well. Metcalf should be the No. 2 in his rookie season behind Tyler Lockett, and he really has a chance to put up special numbers in Year 1 with Wilson slinging him the football deep.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling has been lining up as the No. 2 behind Davante Adams and ahead of Geronimo Allison during offseason practices. Minicamp practices revealed that MVS is a starter and probably the No. 2 behind Adams, with Allison likely to serve as the slot man in three-wide sets. I think this offense is really catered for a guy like him, Adams said of Valdes-Scantling. The fifth-round pick had some standout games as a rookie but was altogether very inconsistent for fantasy owners. Valdes-Scantling finished with 38 catches for 581 yards and had a team-high 15.3 yard-per-catch average. It's looking like he's a perfect fit for new head coach Matt LaFleur's offense, and he'll be coveted by fantasy owners in the later rounds as a potential breakout candidate.
Detroit Lions tight end Michael Roberts reverted back to the Lions on Friday after the Patriots tried to acquire him in a trade. Roberts failed his physical and has now been waived by the Lions. The 25-year-old was a fourth-round pick in 2017 and had just nine catches for 100 yards and three touchdowns in eight games due to injuries in 2018 with Detroit. It remains to be seen if he'll resurface with another team, but even if he does he won't be on the fantasy radar.
Chicago Bears third-round rookie running back David Montgomery has impressed the team as a route-runner out of the backfield in offseason practices. "We always knew he had great hands. You dont know how great of a route runner a college back is, but hes a really good route runner," head coach Matt Nagy said. Montgomery has had comparisons to former Bears do-it-all back Matt Forte, which is a high bar to match. However, the Bears drafted Montgomery with a purpose and then sent Jordan Howard packing in a trade to the Eagles. Mike Davis will also factor in, but Montgomery has as high of a ceiling as any other rookie back to come out of the 2019 draft.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner had more than 62 percent of the team's carries in 2018 and 64 percent of the targets in the passing game among running backs. However, he thinks the team will spread the ball out more evenly in the backfield among him and Jaylen Samuels in 2019. Samuels had 328 yards from scrimmage in the three games that Conner missed with an ankle injury late in the year. There's also fourth-rounder Benny Snell, who ran for 1,449 yards and 16 touchdowns at Kentucky in 2018. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said he isn't concerned about Conner's durability at all. Conner should be the team's primary back and should be the first target in fantasy drafts, but Samuels should also be useful in PPR formats as the Steelers look to spread things around with Antonio Brown gone.
San Francisco 49ers rookie defensive end Nick Bosa (hamstring), the team's first-round pick, believes he'll be ready for Week 1 after being diagnosed with a Grade 1 hamstring strain on May 23. He thinks he'll be able to get enough work at training camp to be ready for the regular season. Bosa also hasn't played football for nearly a year after suffering a sports hernia. The pass-rusher could get off to a slow start in his first NFL season after not practicing at all this spring, but in the long run Bosa should be very helpful in improving San Fran's pass rush. Bosa has been watching the team practice and learning the scheme while picking the brains of Arik Armstead and Dee Ford.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Noah Brown (knee) underwent a scope on his knee last week but is expected to be ready for training camp next month. The 23-year-old had five receptions in eight games played in 2018 and has just nine catches for 87 yards and on scores in 21 games over two seasons after being drafted in the seventh round in 2017. He's buried on the depth chart behind Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns and Randall Cobb, so he's well off the fantasy radar.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had high expectations in his first year in Minnesota after signing a fully guaranteed $84 million deal, but it didn't exactly pay off on the field. Cousins had career highs in completions (425), attempts (606), completion percentage (70.1) and passing touchdowns (30), but the Vikings finished 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs. Cousins is hoping to win more games in 2019, but he's just 34-37-2 as a starter in the NFL and has no playoff wins. The Vikings are expected to focus more on the running game under offensive advisor Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski this year. Cousins could put up decent numbers, but he should be drafted as a low-end QB1 or high-end QB2 this time around.
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone doesn't expect left tackle Cam Robinson (knee) to be ready for the start of training camp this summer. Robinson should be available eventually in training camp, but it's disappointing after he tore his ACL way back in Week 2 of last season. When healthy, Robinson will be tasked with protecting quarterback Nick Foles' blind side in his first year with the team after coming over from the Eagles.
Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay is confident that the Rams will give quarterback Jared Goff a contract extension. "Whether it ends up happening this year or next year, there is a zero percent chance this guy's not gonna get an extension he's worthy of," McVay said. "All the narratives out there are wrong. Jared and I couldn't be more connected, and I couldn't be more appreciative of him as our leader. He is so vital and important to us and our success. That extension will get done. It's a matter of when, not if." Goff will make $4.26 million in 2019 and $22.783 million in 2020. He's had growing pains at times but helped lead the Rams to a Super Bowl appearance last year. Consider him a low-end QB1/high-end QB2 going into 2019.
Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy said the team is optimistic that wide receiver Anthony Miller (shoulder) will be ready for the start of training camp this summer. Miller had left shoulder surgery in January after playing through the injury in his rookie season. The 24-year-old was impressive in his first season, catching 33 passes for 423 yards and seven touchdowns in 15 games. Miller will once again be a big part of Chicago's passing game alongside Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel and should be able to improve on those numbers, although don't expect his touchdowns to go up in his sophomore campaign.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and wide receiver DeSean Jackson have had a great connection and good timing throughout the offseason program. Head coach Doug Pederson said that Jackson spent the entire offseason in Philadelphia working with Wentz, and their chemistry is showing through. Jackson, 32, was a bust in his final year in Tampa with 41 catches for 774 yards and four touchdowns, but he's still very fast and averaged 18.9 yards per catch. He's boom or bust as a deep threat, but D-Jax will still have appeal in standard-scoring leagues in a very potent offense. However, his per-game catches will likely fluctuate with tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor gobbling up targets.
Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson has made an impact as a pass-catcher in organized team activities, and the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett thinks he can catch as many as 60 passes in 2019. Theo Riddick has been the team's primary receiving back the last few seasons, but he might not even be a lock for the 53-man roster this year and is a trade candidate. Johnson caught 32 passes in 10 games as a rookie in 2018 and could easily add to that production as the team's lead back if he stays healthy. He may not get more than 20 touches a game with C.J. Anderson, Zach Zenner, Riddick and rookie Ty Johnson being in the mix, but Johnson is in line to take a big second-year leap for fantasy owners in this run-first offense.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Cameron Meredith (knee) said it's the same knee injury that he dealt with last year that kept him sidelined for organized team activities and minicamp this year. However, he's mostly just being smart with it so that he can have a healthy training camp. Meredith had a breakout year in 2016 with the Bears but then missed all of 2017 with his knee injury and played in only six games with the Saints in 2018, catching nine passes for 114 yards and a touchdown as a complete non-factor. If he doesn't prove his health this summer, Meredith is in danger of not making the final roster.
Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay skipped minicamp last week in hopes of landing a new deal, and he's unsure if he'll report to training camp next month either. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison also sat out of minicamp this week as he seeks a new deal. Both players forfeited $250,000 of workouts bonuses this spring. Slay is scheduled to make $12 million this year and has two years left on the extension he signed in 2016. Harrison also has two years left on his deal and will make $6.75 million in 2019. The Lions have been reluctant to renegotiate contracts of players with multiple years left on their deals, so Slay and Harrison may be barking up the wrong tree. Slay, 28, is coming off his second straight Pro Bowl season and has 11 interceptions over the last two years.