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FFL: Preseason | NFL: Week 1

Saints start offseason with odd mix of bitterness, optimism

Mon Jan 21 6:29pm ET
By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer

Players: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Taysom Hill, Teddy Bridgewater, Tommylee Lewis

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.''

Player Notes
Hunter Renfrow Jul 20 12:40am ET

Joining the new offensive formula for the Oakland Raiders this season, wide receiver Hunter Renfrow hopes to be a part of it in a big way in 2019. The fifth-round rookie has his eyes on the job for the teams starting slot receiver, sandwiched on the field between fellow newcomers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams. Battling Ryan Grant and JJ Nelson for the position, Renfrow has a dynamic skill set that forced GM Mike Mayock to trade up for him at this years draft. His 510 frame, reliable hands, and excellent route-running abilities give him the proper skill set, but hell have to prove hes the right man for the job during training camp and the preseason. Renfrow is a name to watch out for in the buildup to the regular season and is solely on the dynasty league radar until we know more about his role going forward.

From RotoBaller

Kyler Murray Jul 19 11:20pm ET

Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray was impressive during offseason workouts, and he is getting ready for his first training camp with practice starting July 25. He is expected to get the starting nod in Week 1 ahead of veteran journeyman Brett Hundley, and he has impressed early on. "I was impressed with how smart he is, how determined he is. His future is extremely bright," future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said after the rookie's minicamp showing. Murray is already moving up the pre-draft cheat sheets, and he is considered a borderline low-end QB1 or top-end QB2 in most fantasy formats, while having considerably higher value in long-term dynasty formats.

From RotoBaller

Larry Fitzgerald Jul 19 11:10pm ET

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been impressed by the quick learning by rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and his familiarity with the offense. "I know him running (Oklahoma head coach) Lincoln Riley's offense is very similar to what Coach Kliff (Kingsbury) runs," Fitzgerald says, "but on the first day he's calling audibles and getting us in plays that are favorable to the offense. So I was really impressed by his ability to take a leadership position first day at the offense." Fitzgerald also remarked that the Arizona offense will be much faster in tempo, with players expected to process pre-snap adjustments considerably faster. Fitzgerald is getting a little long in the tooth, but the up-tempo style should keep him rather productive heading into 2019. He's a reliable WR3/4 or flex fantasy option in most formats.

From RotoBaller

Jordan Howard Jul 19 6:10pm ET

The Eagles are bringing back running back Darren Sproles for one more season. After playing in just six games last year, it looked like Sproles might be done in the NFL, but the Eagles decided to bring Sproles back to an already crowded backfield that features Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, and Miles Sanders. Clement might be in the most trouble from the Sproles signing, but overall it's looking more and more like this is a running back committee that fantasy owners should stay away from. This move does almost guarantee that either Josh Adams or Wendell Smallwood are cut before the season opens.

From RotoBaller

David Williams Jul 19 4:55pm ET

The Denver Broncos have signed running back David Williams, who the team originally drafted in 2018 before letting go. Williams was a Jaguar last season, but carried the ball just eight times for 36 yards with Jacksonville. It's hard to imagine a situation where Williams has fantasy value in a Broncos backfield that already has Royce Freeman and Phillip, but stranger things have happened. He's not draftable in any format, but a good training camp could put him in the mix for some of Devontae Booker's snaps as the number-three back.

Connor Barwin Jul 19 4:33pm ET

Free-agent DE/LB Connor Barwin (Eagles) told Sirius XM NFL Radio during an interview Friday, July 17, that he has spoken with general manager Howie Roseman about re-signing. Barwin indicated the Eagles want to take a look at their younger players for a few weeks in training camp first but suggested the two sides will reconvene after that.

From TheHuddle

Tyrell Williams Jul 19 3:30pm ET

Oakland Raiders wide receiver Tyrell Williams is poised for a stellar season in his debut year with the Silver and Black. Lining up across the field from Antonio Brown, Williams will serve as the deep threat for the offense and will undoubtedly get his share of targets with Brown drawing most of the attention from opposing defenses. The 6-foot-4 wideout is a boom or bust player on a weekly basis but has the potential to surpass his value on his current 156 ADP. Williams caught 41 balls for 653 yards and five touchdowns with the Chargers last season despite being nearly non-existent in the second half of the year. He does own a 1,000-yard season under his belt, so he has sneaky potential on a team lacking a depth of weapons. As the bonafide number two receiving option for quarterback Derek Carr, Williams is a good late-round target, but the week-to-week consistency is a question mark.

From RotoBaller

Justin Watson Jul 19 3:23pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Justin Watson worked 'extensively' in the slot this spring, according to Greg Auman of The Athletic.

Fantasy Spin: As Auman states, there has been a lot of offseason talk about Chris Godwin working in the slot. Godwin will still get plenty of time inside and probably be the primary slot option in Tampa Bay, but he won't be the only one that spends time there. Owners can continue drafting Godwin high because he is poised to break out regardless of where he lines up, but Watson is a name to remember as a highly athletic player capable of becoming what Godwin turned into last season.

From TheHuddle

Tyler Lockett Jul 19 1:43pm ET

Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett led the league with a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeted 20 or more yards downfield (minimum 15 targets) in 2018.

Fantasy Spin: Lockett will be counted on to be much more than just a deep threat this season with Doug Baldwin now out of the picture and should be valued as a low-end WR2.

From TheHuddle

Will Fuller Jul 19 1:20pm ET

Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (ACL) is expected to be ready to go for the start of the 2019 season. Fuller's played just 17 games over the past two seasons, but when he's on the field he's one of the NFL's best downfield weapons and has developed great chemistry with quarterback Deshaun Watson. Even with serious injury concerns, the upside is too great with Fuller to pass up on him in the middle rounds of the draft. He has 11 touchdown catches over the past two seasons and with DeAndre Hopkins playing across the field from him, defenses aren't able to double Fuller, allowing him to get open deep on a routine basis.

From RotoBaller

D'Onta Foreman Jul 19 1:10pm ET

Houston Texans running back D'Onta Foreman had a disastrous 2018 season, rushing for negative yardage on seven carries while adding two catches for 28 yards and a touchdown. Recovering from an Achilles tear, Foreman appeared in just one regular season game, playing 31 snaps in a loss to the Eagles. Foreman is expected to play a much bigger role this year now that Houston's long time backup, Alfred Blue, is gone, and Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle expects 2019 to be an audition of sorts for Foreman in preparation for Lamar Miller's impending free agency, with Foreman seeing a decent amount of work this season. Foreman makes sense as a late round pick for this reason, though questions about how he'll play after the Achilles injury loom large.

From RotoBaller

Todd Gurley Jul 19 12:33pm ET

Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley (knee) received a vote of health and confidence Thursday, July 18, from head coach Sean McVay, who was a guest on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show. 'I think he's feeling great,' McVay said on the show of Gurley. 'I think, you know, one of the things about Todd is (he's a) great competitor. I think he's earned the right to be able to have the plan that we had this offseason. Can't wait to get him back going. I know he's ready to go and it's going to be fun for the Rams this year.'

Fantasy Spin: Of course, we've been hearing this for months regarding Gurley, and no one is really going to know until the games begin for real on Sept. 8. In the meantime, hedge your bets as best you can and value Gurley as a low-end RB1/high-end RB2 with ample risk/reward involved.

From TheHuddle

Tyreek Hill Jul 19 12:23pm ET

Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill issued his own statement Friday, July 19, after the league announced he will not be subject to a disciplinary suspension or fine at this time. In part, Hill wrote: 'To the Kansas City Chiefs, Clark Hunt, Brett Veach, Coach Reid, the entire organization and the Chiefs Kingdom: you gave me a home when everyone doubted me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you all. I can assure you that I will continue to work to be the person, player, and teammate that you envisioned me to be.'

Fantasy Spin: Surprising as it may be, Hill returns to WR1 consideration in fantasy until further notice.

From TheHuddle

Rafael Bush Jul 19 11:43am ET

Buffalo Bills SS Rafael Bush announced his retirement Friday, July 19.

From TheHuddle

Kurt Coleman Jul 19 11:43am ET

Free-agent FS Kurt Coleman (Saints) signed a one-year deal with the Buffalo Bills Friday, July 19. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

From TheHuddle

Tyreek Hill Jul 19 10:50am ET

The NFL will not suspend Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill for violating the league's player-conduct policy. Hill was under investigation for an incident in which his son's arm was broken. With Hill cleared to be on the field, the Chiefs wideout is once again on track to be one of the league's top receivers thanks to his speed and the prolific passing of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Hill's a second-round fantasy pick at worst now, and will be a huge value for fantasy owners who drafted early and took him at his lower offseason ADP.

From RotoBaller

Tyreek Hill Jul 19 10:33am ET

Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill is unlikely to resume contract talks for several weeks or months with the team.

From TheHuddle

Tyreek Hill Jul 19 10:13am ET

Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill will not be suspended by the NFL as the league found that he did not violate the personal conduct policy. He will be able to attend training camp and participate in all team activities.

Fantasy Spin: The news has a big impact on the fantasy landscape as Hill immediately returns to WR1 status with the cloud clearing over him. Hill had an 87-1,479-12 breakout last season, and talks on a long-term deal could also rekindle.

From TheHuddle

LeSean McCoy Jul 19 3:03am ET

Rival teams believe the Buffalo Bills could release someone from the group of RBs LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon, according to MMQB's Albert Breer, who notes that McCoy is set to earn far more money than Gore or Yeldon.

Fantasy Spin: Barring injury, Devin Singletary is going to make the 53-man roster. Beyond that, training camp will sort things out, though Yeldon seems the most like casualty at this stage.

From TheHuddle

JuJu Smith-Schuster Jul 18 11:40pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is now the top receiver on his team but still has to prove to some that he belongs among the league's elite. After finishing top six in the NFL last year in both receptions (111) and receiving yards (1,426), the third-year pass catcher is in a position to repeat his breakout season. Without Antonio Brown in town, Smith-Schuster will be Ben Roethlisberger's first look. In half-PPR mocks, he's been going in the early-to-middle of the second round. The talent and opportunity are certainly there for the 22-year-old to be considered a top eight receiver in fantasy drafts.

From RotoBaller