Saints exercise 5th-year option on safety Kenny Vaccaro

The New Orleans Saints have exercised the fifth-year option on the contract of safety Kenny Vaccaro, according to NFL Media’s Albert Breer.

Vaccaro was drafted by the Saints with the 15th overall pick of the 2013 draft and and he is now under contract through the 2017 season. He is the first player from the 2013 draft class to officially have his option picked up. Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has said that the team will pick up the fifth-year option for defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. The deadline for picking up a player’s fifth-year option is May 3.

As the 15th overall pick, Vaccaro’s salary will be the average of the third through 25th-highest salaries at the safety position. He should get paid approximately $5.6 million in 2017. This coming season, which was the final year of his $9.4 million rookie contract, Vaccaro is set to make $1.6 million. His $1.3 million prorated signing bonus will count $2.9 million against the cap this season.

He went so far as to say that he didn’t even feel safe going home anymore, noting he flies in and right back out again whenever he has to visit. He also talked about how kids don’t get the same kind of investment that the city puts into hosting larger-than-life festivals, and added that he’s planning to give back to the community.

Despite his emotional plea for the city he calls home, Mathieu acknowledged he doesn’t have all the answers either, but that starting a discussion and raising awareness was at least somewhere to start. This sentiment was echoed by the head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton.

Payton spoke from the heart on Monday to USA TODAY Sports about the dangers of guns and — in a rare move by a current coach — about his political beliefs. “I’m not an extreme liberal,” Payton said. “I find myself leaning to the right on some issues. But on this issue, I can’t wrap my brain around it.”

It was depicted as a raw conversation, in which Payton discussed the events that led to Will Smith’s death just days earlier. The head coach couldn’t sleep after he got the news late Saturday night, and he later stopped by the hospital in support of Smith’s wife and family.

“It’s like our big little secret,” Payton said, in his call with USA TODAY Sports. “They don’t want to kill tourism. But right now, it’s like the Wild, Wild West here.

“I don’t know how he felt about guns,” Payton said. “I know he loved this city. And I know he was going to be a heck of a coach. He had such a presence about him. Not only would he have made the transition to be a great defensive line coach, he had all the tools to become a head coach.”

Smith was going to be a coaching intern for the Saints this season.

Gerald McCoy forgives teen who broke into home, asks people to pray for him

Buccaneers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy had one request Thursday: pray. Last week, his home was broken into just a few hours before the Bucs’ Thursday Night Football game.

“I would just advise people to just pray for him. Just a kid who is lost and thinks that that’s the way to make it, and it’s not.”

McCoy said he may even visit the teen in hopes that he can help him.

“Maybe it was supposed to happen that way,” McCoy said. “Maybe he was supposed to break into my house. … I forgive him.”

The small-market Pirates have no room for sentimentality, however, and McCutchen is signed for 2017 at $14 million with a $14.75 million team option for 2018, a contract that certainly isn’t prohibitive to blocking a trade. Prospect Austin Meadows is close to the majors, although he could use half a season in Triple-A. As Keith Law wrote the other day, the Pirates have “at least signaled to potential buyers that they’re willing to discuss a McCutchen deal.”

The difficult thing is determining who McCutchen is at this point in his career. He hit .256/.336/.430, good for an OPS+ of 103, making him about a league-average hitter, a huge decline from a 157 OPS+ he posted from 2012 to 2015.

I wrote back in August that McCutchen’s decline for a hitter of his caliber at age 29 is historically unprecedented. Superstar hitters are superstars precisely because they don’t collapse at such a relatively young age.

This could be a learning tool for a young quarterback. It more likely seems to be a sign that the record weighs heavily on the coach, and that Kessler is not in the short term providing the answers the Browns want. Whether he can provide the answers long term will be determined.

The Giants are another possibility. Angel Pagan is a free agent, they need a left fielder and they struggled against lefties. Their farm system isn’t highly rated, and the Pirates might ask for infielder Christian Arroyo.

“Obviously there was miscommunication with what the personnel was,” coach Hue Jackson said after the 28-7 loss. “I think they were yelling to try to get the guy off, and he didn’t hear them. I think he was so wired and dialed in to what he thought the personnel was that he didn’t hear everybody trying to get him off the field.

Pete Carroll wishes Rex Ryan would ‘coach his own team’

Bills head coach Rex Ryan was visibly angry with Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman following Buffalo’s loss to the Seahawks on Monday night. Ryan didn’t mince words, telling Sherman he was acting like “an ass” during the game.

On Tuesday, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll responded, saying Ryan should worry about his own players.

He added a caveat.

“(Carpenter) hams it up a little bit, too, which makes it bad,” Carroll said.

The Seahawks beat the Bills 31-25, and the fallout from this game continues.

So let’s just go with a firm no to this question.

Who is going to win the AFC West?

It might be boring to place the Patriots back in another Super Bowl, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any suspense before we reach that point in the season. In fact, the smart money should be on the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs coming out of the AFC West, which quickly has emerged as the best division in football. It’s quite conceivable that both AFC wild-card teams could come from the West — the Raiders are 7-2, the Chiefs are 6-2 and Denver is 6-3 — while San Diego might be the best 4-5 team in football (if only the Bolts hadn’t blown four second-half leads this season …).

One thing we do know for sure: Denver is trending in the wrong direction. The Broncos still have a talented defense, but they’ve struggled against the run and they’re also hurting on offense. The Raiders exploited both those issues in a win this past Sunday night, one that cemented Oakland’s stature as one of the best young teams in the game.

The Chiefs also quietly have positioned themselves to make a strong run at this division title. They’re 2-0 in the division, and one of the best-kept secrets in the NFL is that Kansas City now has won 16 of its last 18 regular-season games. If the Chiefs stay healthy — they beat the Jaguars last week despite injuries to several key players, including quarterback Alex Smith — don’t be surprised if they win out. They always play Denver tough, and they’ve already beaten the Raiders in Oakland.

Johnson became Clinton’s primary running back as a junior and senior

When former Clinton High School football coach Lee Camp brought Johnson up to the varsity as a sophomore, Camp started using Johnson as a dual-threat running back/wide receiver — basically the same role Johnson has with the Cardinals. Camp would swing Johnson out of the backfield, use him on sweeps or line him up as a receiver. It also saved Johnson from wearing down from the punishment of running between the tackles.

Camp saw Johnson’s instincts. He had a knack for anticipating when he’d be open out of the backfield and the vision to read defensive backs and find an open hole. More often than not, Camp said, Johnson had to readjust his route because his quarterback didn’t put the pass where it should’ve been.

Johnson became Clinton’s primary running back as a junior and senior, adding weight and bulk to play at 180 pounds — a far cry from the 224 he’s listed at this season. The foundation was being set for Johnson to become the player who coaches wanted — check that: needed — to have the ball in his hands as often as possible. Even though Johnson emerged into one of the state’s best running backs as a senior, his receiving skills punched his college scholarship ticket.

We’ve dealt with this in recent weeks with the Oakland Raiders and came to the conclusion that Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are each really, really valuable, but Cooper, with his occasional Julio Jones-type outings, is the top choice.

And New Orleans Saints rookie Michael Thomas made a strong case with Sunday’s performance that he deserves considerably more attention in general — and perhaps more than more heralded teammate Brandin Cooks.

The Ravens are better than most at getting Roethlisberger on the ground, especially here in Baltimore, where Big Ben has often been cut down to size (the Ravens sacked him nine times and intercepted him twice in a 27-0 victory in 2006). “We try to coach a way of tackling the guy,” Harbaugh said as he stood outside the winners’ locker room. “Basically what we coach is, tackle him. Tackle him like he’s a tight end. Just tackle him. You don’t knock him off his feet. He’s not going to go down. You have to run up to him and wrap him up because he’ll move just a little bit and you’ll go flying past him.”

Norv Turner unexpectedly resigns as Vikings offensive coordinator

Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner has tendered his resignation, the team announced Wednesday. It’s an unexpected move for Turner, who released a statement shortly after the announcement.

“I have tremendous respect for Mike Zimmer, our coaching staff, and our players and at this time I think it is in the best interest of the team to step down,” Turner said. “I thank the Wilf family for my time here in Minnesota and want to see our players and coaches achieve success.”

The Vikings have been decimated by injury on offense, a primary reason for their struggles to move the ball. Minnesota lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater prior to the season when he went down with a gruesome knee injury during practice.

Star running back Adrian Peterson suffered a torn meniscus in Week 2 that required surgical repair, and the Vikings have lost both starting tackles this season. Matt Kalil was placed on injured reserve with a hip injury after Week 2, and Andre Smith left Monday’s game against the Chicago Bears with an elbow injury. Guard Alex Boone has also missed time with a hip injury, but returned Monday.

Collins is in a contract year, and with a decision on his future looming, he made it pretty easy for the Patriots to decide to ship him off to Cleveland. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Collins was asking the Patriots for “Von Miller money,” and to be frank, there’s absolutely no way Bill Belichick was going to go for that based on Collins’ play.

Miller’s contract covers six years and is worth $114.5 million, but Miller is perhaps the most dominant edge rusher in the game today. Miller had 11 sacks last season, and midway through the 2016 season, he already has 8.5. Collins, on the other hand, has one sack this season. Last year was his most prolific season as a pass rusher, and he finished with 5.5 sacks.

The Patriots could have chosen to go the franchise tag route with Collins, but that would have come with a $14.129 million price tag for one season. That’s not really the Patriot way.

Michael Lombardi, current FOX NFL analyst and a former assistant to the Patriots’ coaching staff, noted what is surely a contributing factor to this trade.

Why the NFLPA needs to keep fighting DeflateGate even if Tom Brady won’t

In its statement Friday, the NFLPA indicated it could still continue to pursue DeflateGate all the way to the Supreme Court.

You probably don’t think of two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry making 3-pointers for the Golden State Warriors. But based on the research University of Pennsylvania professor Angela Duckworth has done on the topic, maybe you should.

“I think the word ‘grit’ sounds like when you grit your teeth,” Duckworth says. “I think it’s less about that than the day-in, day-out dedication and resilience.

“If you look at Steph Curry’s career, there were lots of times where you could have counted yourself out. Weak ankles. Who’s going to be the best player in the league on 3-point shots? There’s nobody in the league I can think of that’s grittier than him.”

A former consultant for McKinsey & Company, Duckworth became intrigued by the notion of grit when she was working as a math and science teacher and trying to figure out why talented students didn’t always succeed and seemingly less-talented kids sometimes did.

Duckworth’s answer, eventually arrived at while working toward a graduate degree in psychology, was grit. Her version of the term, summarized in her recent New York Times bestseller “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” isn’t quite the same as the one used traditionally in sports. Instead, Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long-term goals.”

The Panthers are headed for a fall this season. John Clayton predicts that the Panthers will win four fewer games this season, which makes sense, and still win the NFC South. However, he threw in a little worry about whether or not the team can improve its pass rush. What? Carolina’s pass rush generated pressure on 7.1 percent of opposing passing attempts, 11th best in the NFL last season. Their 44 sacks last season ranked sixth.

Johnny Manziel vows that he’ll return to football. I genuinely hope the man gets the help he needs and beats his addiction. But at this point, it’s a huge leap to think he’ll make it back to the NFL.

Ron Rivera thinks Blaine Gabbert-Colin Kaepernick will be “heck of a competition.” Yep, it ranks right up there with a midseason Thursday night game. He also revealed that the Panthers almost drafted Gabbert over Cam Newton.

One economist says that Las Vegas cannot support the Raiders. It would be the fifth-smallest TV market in the NFL. Better question: Why would people choose to leave the big screens and cheap drinks of a casino to watch the game in the stadium? I still think this underestimates the wider brand appeal of the Raiders as well as the corporate money that would support the stadium’s premium seating.

Arian Foster thinks he’s still a Pro Bowl caliber player despite turning 30 next month and coming off a torn ACL. He’s a Dolphin now.

49ers OT Anthony Davis reinstated by NFL after 1-year retirement

It came as a big surprise when San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Anthony Davis retired last year at the age of 25. But Davis said after his retirement that he was taking a break and that he would eventually return to the NFL. On Saturday, he made good on that promise when the NFL officially approved his reinstatement.

— Anthony Davis (@BamDavis_) July 25, 2016
Now that he has unretired, what happens next will be interesting. Although his agent said Davis and the 49ers have “patched things up,” he has probably caused more than his fair share of headaches in the front office. But before his brief retirement, he was developing into one of the league’s top offensive tackles.

The 49ers have a big need on the offensive line after Erik Pears, the man who replaced Davis last season, struggled mightily in 2015. To make matters worse, guard Jordan Devey was also subpar and left guard Alex Boone left the team in free agency.

When Smith was drafted, it was assumed that the air raid product would take some time to transition into an NFL quarterback. The Jets had recently signed former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard and still had incumbent starter Mark Sanchez on the roster, even though his 2012 season was a disaster.

“We drafted Geno Smith because he has exceptional talent,” former Jets general manager John Idzik said shortly after making the pick. “Let’s get him into a situation where we can help him develop that and let’s see where he goes.”

But Sanchez suffered a shoulder injury in preseason that landed him on injured reserve and knee problems kept Garrard from taking the field.

The likely scenario is that Fitzpatrick is the Jets’ starter this season, and that Smith sticks around as the backup. Bowles made it clear that Fitzpatrick has earned the job, even if Smith will try to make it a competition.

“You want to be out there,” Smith said on Thursday. “But you have to play the cards that you’re dealt and continue to get better.”

And he also knows that, even if he doesn’t start, he has to show he’s still improving.

“I’m auditioning for this team and 31 other teams in the NFL,” Smith told Darryl Slater of NJ.com.

If Smith can’t outplay Fitzpatrick to the point that he supplants him on the depth chart, the former West Virginia star could very well be in another uniform during the 2016 season.

David Johnson accounts for more than one-third of Cardinals’ offense

TEMPE, Ariz. — Of the Arizona Cardinals’ 90 offensive plays in Sunday’s 6-6 tie with the Seattle Seahawks, running back David Johnson had his hands (and feet) in just about every other one.

The second-year running back touched the ball 41 times — 33 carries and eight receptions. He alone accounted for 45.6 percent of the Cardinals’ plays. Johnson ran for 113 yards — his third straight 100-yard rushing game — and finished with 171 yards from scrimmage, which gives him more than 100 yards from scrimmage in every game this season.

But coach Bruce Arians thought Johnson could’ve done more Sunday night.

“He should have had about 45 (touches) had he run better routes,” Arians said. “He’s still struggling running some routes that he runs extremely well in practice. In games, he runs a little bit too quick or he makes poor decisions.

“But when you have 95 plays, he’s going to touch it on most of them.”

That’s been the case all season.

The Cardinals’ offensive game plan has been easy to decipher this season: Give the ball to Johnson. And when he doesn’t get the ball, give it to him on the next play.

But when Quin gets involved with a company, the benefit is typically more than just his investment dollars. Quin is big on giving his companies exposure. A peek in his locker, where Health Warrior bars are often prominently placed, is an example. The conversations between Quin and the entrepreneurs he works with also provide insight and advice, for Quin and for the companies.

“The conversations are just fun,” Manish Shah, the co-founder of PeerWell, said in an email. “He shares how he thinks about decisions and how he is preparing for the season. I like to hear about how others prepare as it informs my own approach to preparing, whether for a conference I’m speaking at, an investor I’m pitching or a hospital we are working a contract with.

“I think Glover is taking his on-the-field thinking and applying it to what he does off the field. Like anticipating how a market will develop, it’s very similar to how a play develops on the field. It may not happen as fast, but having the skill set to see it happening in real-time is valuable.”

As much as Quin identifies with football — he emphasizes he’s a football player first — he wants to be viewed as more than that. He knows the average person looks at an NFL player and doesn’t immediately think intelligence.

At this point, it’s no secret that Johnson will get the ball early and often during games, but teams still struggle to contain him.

Johnson is second in the NFL in rushing with 681 yards, just 22 behind leader Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys, and second in receiving among running backs with 323 yards — seven behind Atlanta’s Tevin Coleman.

Bills cut ties with RB Karlos Williams after rocky offseason

One year after Karlos Williams put together a promising rookie season with the Buffalo Bills, the team announced it waived the second-year running back on Saturday.

Williams picked up 517 rushing yards, 96 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns in 2015, a promising start to the career of a rookie selected in the fifth round. But when the Bills returned for some offseason work in June, Williams was overweight, and Rex Ryan wasn’t happy about it.

The NFL made a finding that Mr. Brown had violated the Personal Conduct Policy. We did so based on the evidence of this one incident as presented in the police report, Mr. Brown and his wife’s statements to police that evening, and his statements in interviews with the NFL.

The NFL Personal Conduct policy allows for discipline to be imposed even when criminal charges are not presented. It further allows for us to consider both aggravating and mitigating factors regarding discipline for domestic violence.

REVISED INJURY REPORT: Competition Committee approves revisions to the injury report. Teams won’t be able to designate players as “probable” anymore, and the “questionable” and “doubtful” designations have been redefined to make your fantasy lineup decisions even harder.

GREEN SPEAKS: Steelers TE Ladarius Green breaks silence on headaches, ankle and potential retirement. Fans haven’t heard much from Ladarius Green, but he has been a topic of conversation across the black and gold landscape. The free agent acquisition broke his silence Saturday after practice.

BAD THINGS HAPPENING TO THE BILLS: The Buffalo Bills are losing training camp. After declaring the Bills had “won the offseason,” Rex Ryan may have to spend the rest of the year batting down questions about his job security.

LUCKY GUY: Andrew Luck is back! The general made his preseason debut this week.

IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING NICE: The Giants head coach couldn’t find any positives in a preseason loss to the Bills. Ben McAdoo has had by far his hardest week on the job so far. He didn’t make much of an effort to hide it in speaking to reporters after a preseason loss to Buffalo.

The Bills proved they could connect on long touchdowns, but not much else in 37-31 loss to New York

The New York Jets beat the Buffalo Bills, 37-31, on Thursday Night Football by dominating time of possession and limiting the Bills to a few big plays.

The Jets set the tone with their first possession, which took over eight minutes off the clock. The 15-play, 65-yard drive resulted in just a field goal, but it kept the ball out of Tyrod Taylor’s hands for more than half of the first quarter.

New York controlled the clock throughout the game, in part because the Bills’ entire offensive attack seemed to consist of a few big plays. The Bills scored on two deep touchdown passes, an 82-yard throw to Marquise Goodwin and a 71-yard pass to Greg Salas. If you remove those plays, the Bills had just 154 passing yards on 29 attempts.

The bigger issue for Buffalo was how little time those two plays took off the clock. The drive that resulted in Goodwin’s touchdown took just 1:25, and Salas’ score took less than a minute. New York had the ball for 39:12 in this game, which didn’t give the Bills much time to work with.

The officials acted swiftly with Taylor, and their reaction may have been influenced by Week 1’s controversial Thursday Night Football matchup between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos.

The NFL was widely criticized last Thursday night after Panthers quarterback Cam Newton took several shots to the head in the season opener. Officials in that game only flagged one hit on Newton, and the NFL issued fines to Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety Darian Stewart.

Sammy Watkins is questionable for Thursday night’s game against the Jets. Also, Cordy Glenn will miss his first start in almost four years.

Ryan Fitzpatrick looking to reverse his struggles against the Bills. This time it’s personal.

BRUUUUUUCE: The Bills are retiring Bruce Smith’s number on Thursday, and he talked to SB Nation about just how special that is.

Mike Zimmer won’t name his starting quarterback ahead of a Week 2 tilt with the Packers. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy expects the Vikings to start Sam Bradford over Shaun Hill. But it was Sam Bradford taking all the first team reps in practice.