METAIRIE, La. -- Sean Payton deserves a hearty "Skol" clap for his latest gesture.

The New Orleans Saints coach took a mocking offer of a free couch from a Minnesota furniture company (so he could watch Sunday's NFC Championship Game from home) and turned it into a positive with a $25,000 donation on Friday. He tweeted that the couch would be donated to Children's Minnesota.

Payton drew the ire of some Minnesota Vikings fans and some media members this week after he was caught making the Vikings' signature "Skol" clap gesture toward a group of fans before Minnesota came back with one of the most stunning last-second victories in NFL history.

Earlier this week, Payton said he was just having some "good playoff fun."

But his response on Friday was even more brilliant -- not only having some fun at his own expense but bringing even more attention to a fantastic charity cause that the two teams have been sharing in all week.

Thomas Morstead's "What You Give Will Grow" charity earned more than $200,000 in donations this week (even before Payton's contribution) after a Vikings fan suggested on social media that people should make donations to the Saints punter's charity as an appreciation for the way he played through torn cartilage in his ribs and even came out to line up as a defensive tackle on the final two-point conversion kneel-down at the end of the game.


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GRETNA, La. -- Claims of self-defense by the man who killed former NFL player Joe McKnight withered under scrutiny, a prosecutor told jurors Friday, but a defense lawyer insisted the shooter fired as McKnight approached his car, spewing obscenities and threats following a traffic confrontation in December 2016.

The conflicting claims were made in opening statements in the second-degree murder trial of Ronald Gasser, 56.

Defense lawyer Matthew Goetz said authorities in suburban New Orleans were under political pressure to make an arrest when Gasser was jailed days after the shooting. Goetz alluded to racial unrest that year in American cities, including the St. Louis area and Baton Rouge. Gasser is white; McKnight was black.

Seth Shute, an assistant District Attorney in Louisiana's Jefferson Parish, acknowledged that Gasser was initially freed after the shooting. But Shute said Gasser was arrested after investigators talked to numerous witnesses and assembled physical evidence contradicting Gasser's claim that McKnight, 28, had tried to lunge into his car through a passenger window after both vehicles stopped at a busy intersection.

Jurors were selected Tuesday. Opening statements were delayed because unusually frigid winter weather in south Louisiana prompted a two-day closure of the parish courthouse in the New Orleans suburb of Gretna.

Shute said jurors will hear from dozens of witnesses. Some will testify about what Shute called a "mobile shouting match" that began on a bridge spanning the Mississippi River in New Orleans and continued into neighboring Jefferson Parish, Shute said. Others will talk about hearing the pop-pop-pop of three gunshots, seeing McKnight fall and watching as Gasser exited his car with his handgun still smoking.

Jurors also will hear a police officer recount Gasser's first words at the shooting scene: "He cut me off and got out on me."


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Adam Schefter joins SportsCenter to explain why Drew Brees will remain with New Orleans despite being an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Courtesy of Drew BreesDrew Brees had his three sons write letters to Saints (and NFC) coach Sean Payton applying to be ball boys at the Pro Bowl.

The Saints quarterback's 11th Pro Bowl appearance will be a family affair, with his three sons joining in to perform ball-boy duties for the NFC team.

METAIRIE, La. -- As New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead said, the Minnesota Vikings fans are "officially ridiculous."

As of Thursday morning, Vikings fans had donated more than $150,000 to Morstead's "What You Give Will Grow" charity -- the latest in a growing trend of NFL fan bases showing appreciation for players on other teams.

In this case, a Vikings fan apparently first suggested on Reddit that they should make donations to Morstead's charity out of respect for the way he played through the pain of torn cartilage in his ribs in Sunday's playoff game -- and even came out to line up as a defensive tackle on the Vikings' final two-point conversion kneel-down after their stunning game-winning touchdown.

As donations grew on Sunday and Monday, Morstead promised to return to Minnesota to personally deliver a check to Minnesota's Child Life Program -- which he now plans to do during the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

"I mean, that is incredible. I'm totally blown away. I will book my flights tonight. I will be there the week of the Super Bowl," Morstead said in a video thank-you message on Twitter. "You guys should all be proud of yourselves. That's a group effort, and it's gonna affect everyone in your community in a positive way. And I'm just totally humbled by this.

"I may be forced to root for you guys all the way through the Super Bowl now. I'm just totally blown away. Thank you very much. And Who Dat!"


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Stephen Lew/Icon SportswireTerron Armstead doesn't need surgery this offseason but he plans to be aggressive with his rehab.

Armstead has struggled through hip, knee and shoulder injuries, but the Saints' tackle hasn't lost faith that he's finally due for a healthy season.
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsThomas Morstead donate money he receives from Vikings fans to a local Minnesota charity.

Vikings fans appreciated that Saints punter Thomas Morstead played through a painful rib injury and came back on the field to close out the game.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsSaints head coach Sean Payton reacted toward Vikings fans after his team's late fourth-quarter touchdown Sunday.

The Saints coach downplayed his gesture toward Vikings fans after New Orleans had taken a 24-23 lead with 25 seconds remaining Sunday.

METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees says he doesn't plan on testing the free-agent market this year or waiting until the start of the new league year on March 14 to sign a new contract with the New Orleans Saints, even if that means losing the leverage that might come with other potential suitors.

"I'm not in the mood to make anything secretive," Brees said with a laugh when asked about being chased down by the media for months with questions about his contract. "It's the same way I felt two days ago. It's the same way I felt 12 years ago. That is that I'll be here as long as they'll have me, hopefully."

Brees and Saints coach Sean Payton both stressed, however, that two days into the offseason is too early to talk about any contract decisions. So Brees said he knows that a "process" has to take place at some point in between the Saints' staff coaching in the Pro Bowl and the end-of-season meetings with coaches and scouts and the NFL scouting combine.

"We're just two days removed, so I really haven't given it a ton of thought -- other than, I know where my mindset's been the whole time, and that's that I'll be here," said Brees, who turned 39 on Monday.

Though there might not be any drama surrounding where Brees winds up, it will be interesting to see what his next deal looks like. Chances are it will be another short-term deal, since the Saints have made it clear they prefer to take things one year at a time.

The last time the two sides negotiated, they wound up agreeing to a one-year extension in September 2016 that lasted through the end of the 2017 season. Last year, they never talked seriously about a further extension.

The Saints cannot place the franchise tag on Brees, however, because of a clause in his current deal. So they will have to agree to a new contract at some point before March 16 to keep other suitors from getting a crack at him.

Brees' most recent one-year extension was worth $24.25 million, which was the fourth-highest average salary in the NFL this year, though fellow free agents Kirk Cousins


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Stephen Lew/Icon SportswireZach Strief has been on injured reserve since October but still feels shell-shocked by how the Saints' season ended on Sunday.

The New Orleans OL had a great 2016 but spent much of this season on injured reserve and was replaced as a starter by a first-round draft pick.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY SportsDrew Brees is expected to return to the Saints, likely on a short-term contract.

With a manageable list of pending free agents, New Orleans should be in position to shop for a few quality additions in free agency this spring.

Alvin Kamara, Saints dominate NFC South awards

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AP Photo/Rusty CostanzaAlvin Kamara had a surprising and dominant rookie season, with 1,554 yards from scrimmage, sixth in the NFL.

With rookie RB Alvin Kamara consistently productive, the Saints were able to balance their offense and rise to the top of the division.

Few paid much attention last March when the Minnesota Vikings signed Case Keenum to a one-year contract for $2 million. That move became one of the most pivotal of the 2017 season, which makes this a good time to revisit all the moves that made this season what it was -- and what it continues to be for the surviving teams.

We hereby re-grade every NFL team's 2017 offseason with the benefit of hindsight, using as a reference point the grades league insiders helped shape back in June.

You can read the whole file or quickly find your team by selecting one of the links below:

ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN | CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAC | KC | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | OAK | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

A grades

New Orleans Saints

Re-grade: A+ | Offseason grade: B-

One of the best Saints draft classes in franchise history played a leading role in New Orleans' winning the NFC South and becoming respectable on defense. Draft choices Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk and Marcus Williams became immediate starters, while Alvin Kamara rivaled Lattimore as the biggest star of the bunch.

The Brandin Cooks trade gave New Orleans the pick used for Ramczyk. Veteran additions Ted Ginn Jr., Larry Warford, A.J. Klein, Alex Okafor and Manti Te'o were all valued contributors (Adrian Peterson was not, which is why the Saints traded him).

Even the changes Sean Payton made to his coaching staff seemed to pan out.

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METAIRIE, La. -- Marcus Williams vowed that he "won't let one play define the type of MAN or PLAYER that I am or will be!" as he thanked his supporters Monday via Twitter, a day after his missed tackle gave the Minnesota Vikings a 29-24 victory in the NFC divisional round. 

The New Orleans Saints rookie safety has been a magnet for both cruel criticism and overwhelming support on social media after he missed the tackle that allowed Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs to score on a historic 61-yard, walk-off touchdown catch in Sunday's loss.

While there was no shortage of Bill Buckner references, there were also heartfelt responses from people like Saints legend Steve Gleason, as well as at least one fan who greeted him with a sign at the airport when the Saints returned home, and two children who brought a personalized note to the Saints' practice facility.

Williams was hard on himself after the defeat Sunday, when he vowed "to never let that happen again. And, I mean, if it happens again, then I shouldn't be playing."

But teammates and coach Sean Payton showered him with support, stressing he was hardly the only one to blame and that they believe in the 21-year-old second-round pick out of Utah, who had five interceptions while starting 17 games in the regular season and playoffs.


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Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesMarcus Williams is dealing with criticism after his mistake in the final moments of New Orleans' loss in Minnesota, but the Saints believe their rookie safety will eventually be remembered for plays like this impressive interception on Sunday.

New Orleans' safety made a crushing mistake in Sunday's playoff loss, but Saints players and coaches envision a bright future for the talented rookie.

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