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.''
Updating a previous report, the Detroit Lions traded TE Michael Roberts to the New England Patriots in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2020.
Buffalo Bills WR Andre Roberts may see work in the passing game as the No. 5 receiver in addition to playing on special teams, according to Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News.
Buffalo Bills QB Matt Barkley has the 'safest' role on the roster as QB Josh Allen's backup, in the opinion of Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News.
New Orleans Saints WR Cameron Meredith (knee) said sitting out OTAs and minicamp is 'mostly a matter of being smart' in order to ensure a healthy training camp.
Green Bay Packers WR Geronimo Allison is 'likely slated as the slot man' in three-receiver sets, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.
Fantasy Spin: Allison had a productive start to last season before suffering an injury, and while Marquez Valdes-Scantling may have the inside track on the No. 2 receiver job, the Green Bay passing attack could support three viable fantasy options. Consider Allison a WR4 with upside.
Green Bay Packers WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling has been lining up across from WR Davante Adams in all packages during minicamp.
Fantasy Spin: It sounds like Valdes-Scantling has the inside track to the No. 2 receiver job. It remains to be seen if he will take the role and run with it, but the upside that comes with being one of Aaron Rodgers' top targets makes him a WR4 candidate.
New York Jets WR Robby Anderson (undisclosed) did not practice Thursday, June 13, because of an undisclosed injury.
Fantasy Spin: The nature of Anderson's injury remains unclear, but unless it lingers into training camp, fantasy owners shouldn't be too concerned. Anderson started to connect with Sam Darnold on some big plays late last season, and he's a WR3 candidate in 2019 as the top option in the passing attack.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette will be a big part of the passing game with QB Nick Foles in 2019, according to ESPN's Michael DiRocco.
Fantasy Spin: Fournette has just 48 career catches for 487 yards and two touchdowns over the first two seasons of his career. Foles most memorably hooked up with RB Corey Clement four times for 100 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl LII. Fournette could be a huge steal if he continues to go in the third round of PPR drafts.
Indianapolis Colts RB Marlon Mack is being viewed by head coach Frank Reich as the team's workhorse in the backfield, according to Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star.
Fantasy Spin: Mack rushed for 908 yards and nine touchdowns last season while adding 103 yards and one touchdown as a receiver. Nyheim Hines should handle the majority of third-down duties in 2019, but Mack could still return plenty of value as a high-end RB2.
Buffalo Bills RB LeSean McCoy expects to maintain a large role in the offense in his age-31 season in 2019. 'I'm a type of guy, I thrive off of having a big name. So when guys come to my team, they're curious to see, 'How is LeSean McCoy? Is he still a good player?' I mean, I'm a dominant player. I think that speaks for itself. But I'll be in the same role as last year. And I look forward to putting some numbers up and bouncing back from that last season,' McCoy said Tuesday, June 12.
Fantasy Spin: McCoy totaled just 752 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns last season. Both numbers were career worsts as he played in 14 games but made just 13 starts. He remains No. 1 on the Bills' depth chart, but he'll be competing against veteran RB Frank Gore and third-round rookie Devin Singletary. He's fallen into RB4 territory but could prove to be a steal at a mid-round price.
Detroit Lions CB Darius Slay hasn't committed to reporting to next month's training camp without a new contract. 'Will I be there?' Slay said in an episode of The Pride Podcast released Thursday, June 13. 'We'll see. Time will tell.' Slay is set to carry a cap hit of $12.55 million in 2019 on the second-to-last year of a four-year, $48-million deal signed in 2016.
Philadelphia Eagles TE Dallas Goedert has looked ready to make a second-year leap into stardom in 2019, according to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Fantasy Spin: Goedert, who caught 33 passes for 334 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie after being chosen 49th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, will remain behind Zach Ertz on the Eagles' depth chart as a sophomore. He could prove to be a viable TE2 in deeper leagues and would be an instant must-add should Ertz miss any time.
Seattle Seahawks WR David Moore has made a huge leap this offseason in his knowledge of the position and in his ability to play multiple spots, according to head coach Pete Carroll on Thursday, June 13.
Fantasy Spin: Moore caught just 26 of 53 targets last season but turned those into 445 yards and five touchdowns. He projects behind Tyler Lockett and rookie D.K. Metcalf on the depth chart, but he's worth a late-round pick as a WR5 as the Seahawks begin life without Doug Baldwin.
Detroit Lions RB Theo Riddick is not guaranteed to make the team out of training camp, in the opinion of the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett.
Detroit Lions RB Kerryon Johnson finished with 32 catches in 10 games as a rookie in 2018, and the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett could see him doubling that production in 2019 if the team decides they don't need to take Johnson off the field on third down.
Dallas Cowboys CB Byron Jones (hip) and DE DeMarcus Lawrence (shoulder) are expected to begin training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson has reportedly built a strong connection and sense of timing with QB Carson Wentz throughout the spring, according to Mike Kaye of NJ.com.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson indicated he may work with noted 'quarterback guru' Tom House over the summer and confirmed he will throw to his teammates in either Baltimore or somewhere in Florida in July.
New Orleans Saints WR Travin Dural was waived Thursday, June 13.
Seattle Seahawks RB C.J. Prosise (hamstring) reportedly left practice with a tight hamstring Thursday, June 13, according to head coach Pete Carroll.