Dec 29, 2019; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead (6) before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Saints release punter Thomas Morstead after 12 seasons

The New Orleans Saints released punter Thomas Morstead on Thursday after 12 seasons as the team continues to whittle down its salary cup.

The move saves the Saints another $2.5 million in cap space and leaves $2 million in dead money.

Morstead, 34, played in 205 games — including postseason — for the Saints after being selected in the fifth round of the 2009 draft. He was coming off his worst season, punting for a career-low 43.1 yards in 2020, more than three yards off his career average (46.5).

Morstead made the Pro Bowl in 2012 when he averaged a career-best 50.1 yards per punt.

“Thomas has been a very important part of the New Orleans Saints organization and our community since 2009,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said in a statement. “It has been an honor to have coached him and to have witnessed his growth as a player and a person. He has been a great leader and mentor to many younger players throughout his career and his Pro Bowl level of play year-in and year-out has been remarkable. I know that Thomas will be highly successful in the future and am grateful to have had the opportunity to coach him.”

–Field Level Media

Jan 17, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) drops back to pass during the AFC Divisional Round playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Baker Mayfield ‘almost’ certain he saw a UFO

Jan 10, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Browns won 48-37. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield spends most of his time looking for open receivers. On Wednesday night, Mayfield believes he saw something from out of this world.

Mayfield took to social media to announce that he and his wife, Emily, thought they saw a UFO on their way home from dinner in Texas.

“Almost 100%, Em and I just saw a UFO drop straight out of the sky on our way home from dinner… we stopped and looked at each other and asked if either of us saw it,” he wrote. “… Very bright ball of light going straight down out of the sky towards Lake Travis. Anybody else witness this?”

Mayfield’s ability to locate unidentified flying objects likely isn’t of high concern for the Browns, who have a decision to make regarding their quarterback. They have until May 3 to decide whether to pick up his fifth-year option.

“The quarterback position is in my mind the most important position in professional sports,” Browns general manager Andrew Berry said Wednesday, via The Cleveland Plain Dealer. “And until you have a baseline of winning-level quarterback play, it’s really difficult to win and make progress in the NFL, and oftentimes if that position isn’t productive or isn’t solidified, it can feel a lot like operating in neutral.

“That’s something that’s certainly not lost on us and it’s definitely not lost on us as an organization.”

Mayfield, 25, threw for 3,563 yards with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 16 games last season.

He has thrown for 11,115 yards with 75 touchdowns and 43 interceptions in 46 career games since being selected by the Browns with the top overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.

–Field Level Media

Jan 10, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Browns won 48-37. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers agree to team-friendly contract

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger signed a restructured contract Thursday to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 2021 season.

The Steelers and Roethlisberger worked to reduce his NFL-high salary cap number for 2021 of $41.25 million, but terms of the new deal weren’t immediately known.

Multiple reports Thursday indicate the pay reduction is significant and eliminated a $15 million roster bonus due later this month. Roethlisberger turned 39 on March 2.

“We are excited we were able to come to an agreement with Ben Roethlisberger on a new contract for him to return to the Steelers in 2021,” Steelers vice president and general manager Kevin Colbert said in a team-issued statement Thursday. “We know that Ben can still play at a high level and do special things for this team. Our goal remains the same — to put together a roster that will compete for another championship. We are happy that Ben will be one of our leaders to help us accomplish that goal.”

Roethlisberger’s 18th season with the team will allow him to add to franchise records, including 233 career starts. He returned in 2020 from a season-ending elbow injury that required surgery in 2019 and led the Steelers to the playoffs despite sputtering in December.

After an 11-0 start with 25 touchdown passes, Roethlisberger had eight touchdowns and four interceptions in the final four games, sitting out the regular-season finale against the Browns.

“It is my greatest honor to be a Pittsburgh Steeler and give my all for this organization,” Roethlisberger said in a statement. “I am grateful to be at this stage of my career and more than happy to adjust my contract in a way that best helps the team to address other players who are so vital to our success. I love this game and love to compete, and I believe in this team and my ability to deliver when called upon. It all starts with great preparation and I am ready to go.”

He threw for 3,803 yards with 33 touchdowns against 10 interceptions in 15 games last season. The two-time Super Bowl champion and six-time Pro Bowl selection met with Colbert, head coach Mike Tomlin and owner Art Rooney after the season ended.

Even with Roethlisberger back, big changes are in store for the roster. Center Maurkice Pouncey retired and the Steelers have four offensive line regulars ticketed for free agency. Running back James Conner is not expected to return in free agency and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is also headed for the open market.

Smith-Schuster has been considered a possible candidate for the franchise tag.

–Field Level Media

Jun 12, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis (58) and tight end Greg Olsen (88) drill during mini-camp at Carolina Panthers practice field next to Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Davis, Greg Olsen to retire as Panthers

The Carolina Panthers will host a joint retirement ceremony next week for two former stalwarts of the team.

Tight end Greg Olsen and linebacker Thomas Davis will retire as Panthers on March 11.

Davis announced Wednesday night that he would be signing a one-day contract to retire with the Panthers. Olsen tweeted Thursday morning that he will join him.

Davis was released by the Washington Football Team, and Olsen’s release from the Seattle Seahawks is forthcoming.

Both were three-time Pro Bowl selections with the Panthers.

Carolina made Davis, now 37, the No. 14 overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft, and he played with the team through the 2018 season. One year each with the Los Angeles Chargers (2019) and Washington (2020) followed.

In 199 career games (174 starts), Davis made 1,216 tackles and had 90 tackles for loss, 29 sacks, 61 quarterback hits, 18 forced fumbles, 11 fumble recoveries and a touchdown. He was an All-Pro selection in 2015.

Olsen played four seasons with the Chicago Bears after they selected him with the No. 31 overall draft pick in 2007. He joined the Panthers in 2011 and played there until he joined the Seahawks in 2020.

Like Davis, Olsen played 199 games (170 starts) and caught 742 passes for 8,683 yards with 60 touchdowns. He became quarterback Cam Newton’s primary target and had three 1,000-yard passing seasons from 2014-16.

Injuries plagued the final years of his career, and he finished three of his final four seasons on injured reserve.

Olsen will turn 36 on the day of the retirement ceremony. He will work as an analyst for FOX Sports beginning this fall.

–Field Level Media

Sep 27, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Jason Peters (71) against the Cincinnati Bengals during overtime at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Peters planning 18th season in 2021

Offensive tackle Jason Peters plans to prepare for his 18th NFL season in 2021.

Appearing on NFL Network on Thursday, Peters said he has enough left in his tank to play next season at age 39.

“I don’t know about ‘a whole lot,’ but I still got some in the tank, and I can definitely show some of the young guys how to play the game of football,” he said. “You can know the Xs and Os, but I’m gonna be the one to stay with ’em after practice and show ’em how to really play the game, the technique, and the things about the detail of the football game throughout the course of the season.”

Peters has spent the past 12 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He rejoined the team prior to the start of the 2020 regular season after it appeared the Eagles were headed another direction.

Peters, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection at left tackle, signed to play guard following Brandon Brooks’ season-ending injury. He wound up back at tackle due to a series of injuries.

One potential landing spot for Peters is Indianapolis, where he would reunite with quarterback Carson Wentz and offensive coordinator Frank Reich, now head coach of the Colts.

Reich and the Colts have a deal in place to acquire Wentz when the new league year begins March 17. Indianapolis is reshaping its offensive line due to the retirement of left tackle Anthony Castonzo.

“I knew it was gonna be Frank Reich ’cause when he was there, Frank had him running smooth,” Peters said of Wentz. “Super Bowl run, we went and got the trophy, and that was my deal on that. Carson is a great player, nothing really went wrong on that. He just was in Philadelphia. It’s a hard city to play for, man, they’re critical of every play, inch, foot, year. You gotta bring it every year or Philadelphia will eat you up, man.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 24, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view of a Cleveland Browns helmet prior to a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The Bears won 20-3. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Kellen Winslow II receives 14-year prison sentence

Former NFL tight end Kellen Winslow II received a 14-year prison sentence Wednesday in connection with multiple rapes and other sex crimes.

The sentence, announced by San Diego County Superior Court Judge Blaine Bowman, was in keeping with a plea agreement that Winslow reached with prosecutors last month.

Bowman said, “(Winslow) can only be described in two words, and that is sexual predator. And that is what Kellen Winslow II is. He’s a sexual predator. He preys on vulnerable victims and is very brazen in the way he carries out his crimes. So, for that, the defendant is going to get 14 years in prison.”

Winslow responded: “Your Honor, I’ve been advised by my lawyer not to speak right now. But in the future, I do plan to tell my story.”

Winslow, 37, pleaded guilty to the rapes of a 58-year-old homeless woman in 2018 and of an unconscious 17-year-old, when Winslow was 19, at a party in 2003.

In all, he committed sex crimes against five women, one incident an assault of a hitchhiker in a shopping center parking lot. Winslow pleaded guilty to that assault with the intent to commit rape.

All of the incidents took place in northern San Diego County.

The homeless woman Winslow was convicted of raping said in a court appearance Wednesday: “It’s affecting my life every day and every night. When I stay at my brother’s house, I look under beds, in closets. And I’ll probably never stop. I’ll never feel safe inside or outside. You brought so much damage to my life.”

Winslow, the son on Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow, played nine seasons in the NFL and was a Pro Bowl performer in 2007 for the Cleveland Browns.

He amassed 469 receptions for 5,236 yards and 25 touchdowns in 105 games (83 starts) while playing for the Browns (2004, 2006-08), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2009-11), New England Patriots (2012) and New York Jets (2013).

–Field Level Media

Jan 3, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws a pass against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings GM: ‘Kirk Cousins is our quarterback’

Rick Spielman has not been living in a vacuum.

With the early NFL offseason buzz all about quarterbacks either changing teams or wanting a new home address, the Minnesota Vikings general manager insisted Wednesday that his franchise would not be one to hunt for a new signal-caller in 2021.

“Kirk Cousins is our quarterback,” Spielman said bluntly on a video call with reporters. “I know there’s a lot of rumors floating around out there, but Kirk Cousins is our quarterback. We felt that he played very well, probably the best that he’s ever played down that stretch last year.”

Cousins, 32, just finished his third season with the Vikings after signing a two-year, $66 million free-agent deal in 2019 after six seasons with Washington. He led Minnesota to the playoffs in his second season, going 10-5 as a starter while throwing for 3,603 yards with 26 touchdown passes and just six interceptions.

Cousins put up arguably better numbers in 2020, with 4,265 passing yards, a career-high 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. But the Vikings went just 7-9 in their first losing season since 2014.

Despite the Vikings sporting the NFL’s fourth-rated offense last season, their highest NFL ranking since 2004, Cousins has endured plenty of criticism by those who believe he has not lived up to franchise quarterback money in Minnesota.

“Kirk is our quarterback going forward, and I look forward to him with another year in this system,” Spielman said. “I’m excited for him and what he’s going to bring to our team next year.”

Cousins carries a $31 million salary-cap figure next season, and his $35 million salary for 2022 will be fully guaranteed if he remains on the roster on March 19. That would increase his cap hit to the Vikings to $45 million in 2022.

–Field Level Media

Dec 23, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess (17) catches a pass in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Packers undecided on WR Devin Funchess’ future

Jan 3, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws a pass against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Packers are unsure whether wide receiver Devin Funchess will be back with the team in 2021.

Neither offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett nor general manager Brian Gutekunst showed their hand on Wednesday via Packers.com when asked about the 26-year-old’s future with the team.

Funchess opted out of the 2020 season.

“We’ll find out,” Hackett said Tuesday regarding Funchess’ status with the team. “If he’s here, we’ll be excited to have him here, and see what he can do and move forward from there.”

Gutekunst added, “We have had some contact with Devin (about) possibly being a part of our squad moving forward. There’s a lot of different pieces that kind of affect each other. We’re working through all that.”

Because Funchess opted out, his contract tolled to 2021.

Funchess played his first four seasons with the Carolina Panthers before playing one game with the Indianapolis Colts in 2019.

The former Michigan Wolverine has 164 career receptions for 2,265 yards and 21 touchdowns in 62 games (41 starts).

His best season came in 2017 with the Panthers when he established career bests of 63 catches, 840 yards and eight scores.

–Field Level Media

Dec 13, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Golden Tate (15) catches a pass at the one yard line against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (33) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: Giants release WR Golden Tate

The New York Giants released veteran wide receiver Golden Tate on Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

The move was for cost-cutting purposes and will create $10 million in cap space for New York if he is designated as a post-June 1 cut.

Tate had a quiet season in 2020, notching 35 receptions for 388 yards and two scores while starting in just four of his 12 games.

He was also suspended four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

He was set to make $8.5 million in 2021 after signing a four-year deal with the Giants worth $36.3 million back in 2019.

Tate previously played for the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles while catching 695 passes for 8,278 yards and 46 touchdowns in his 11-year career.

–Field Level Media

Dec 6, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook (87) makes a catch in front of Atlanta Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver (26) during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Saints release TEs Jared Cook, Josh Hill

The salary cap-strapped New Orleans Saints officially released a pair of tight ends on Wednesday, two-time Pro Bowl veteran Jared Cook and Josh Hill.

Cook was already scheduled to become a free agent on March 17, while Hill had one season remaining on a three-year, $8.85 million deal. New Orleans reportedly cleared $2.5 million off the salary cap with Hill’s release.

The Saints are expected to make several more moves in the coming days, as they enter the offseason currently projected to be over $64 million over the salary cap for the 2021 season, according to Over The Cap estimates.

Cook, who turns 34 next month, and Hill, who turns 31 in May, combined for 45 receptions, 550 yards and eight touchdown grabs in 12 starts at tight end last season for New Orleans.

Cook posted most of that pass-catching production, with 37 catches for 504 yards — his lowest totals since the 2016 season. He also added seven touchdown receptions, giving him 16 in his two years with the Saints — the most in his career in a two-season span.

“Jared consistently displayed the playmaking skills that attracted us to him as a free agent two years ago,” Saints coach Sean Payton said in a news release. “He made a lot of big plays for us and was a positive influence on his teammates. Jared is a consummate professional who is dedicated to his craft and we wish him the best of luck in the future.”

Cook has been a productive receiving threat in stints with the Tennessee Titans (2009-12), St. Louis Rams (2013-15), Green Bay Packers (2016) and then-Oakland Raiders (2017-19). He has 505 catches for 6,673 yards and 41 touchdowns in a 12-year career. He was a third-round pick by the Titans in 2009.

Hill, originally an undrafted free agent out of Idaho State, has spent all eight previous seasons with the Saints. In 117 games (61 starts), he has compiled 116 catches and 1,071 yards with 15 touchdowns.

“Josh joined us an undrafted free agent in 2013 and has been a model of consistency throughout his eight seasons with us,” Payton said. “He has been reliable, selfless and filled numerous roles for us, oftentimes on the fly and in the middle of games, filling each role at a very high level. We appreciate everything he has done for our team and know he will have continued success as he moves forward.”

–Field Level Media