Josh Morgan had other options.
He’s not sure how many; Morgan left a lot of the team-finding in free agency up to his agent.
But when his agent called to say Morgan had a shot with the New Orleans Saints, the veteran had been told all he needed to hear.
“Once he told me Drew Brees,” Morgan said, “then I wanted to be here.”
Morgan, a veteran of seven seasons in the NFL with San Francisco, Washington and Chicago, made the most of a tryout at the Saints’ rookie minicamp in mid-May and signed a one-year deal for the veteran minimum of $870,000 the same day the minicamp ended.
There is undeniable opportunity in New Orleans. Despite how high the Saints coaching staff is on players like Nick Toon, Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones, the roster is still largely unproven behind Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks. Before Morgan signed, Saints receivers not named Colston or Cooks had a combined 36 career catches.
Morgan, who has caught more than 40 passes in a season three times in his career, adds instant veteran presence to the pile of players competing for roster spots and reps behind Colston and Cooks.
“We have some good depth and good competition at that position,” coach Sean Payton said.
Morgan, who turns 30 this week, believes he still has much more to offer than just experience.
He had precious few chances last season on a Bears team that built its offense around Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, a quartet that caught a whopping 85.4 percent of Chicago’s completions. Morgan, on the other hand, caught 10 passes for 70 yards. The year before that, he was caught in a Redskins offense that went into a tailspin after the rushed recovery and subsequent shutdown of Robert Griffin III. In that maelstrom, Morgan caught 20 passes for 214 yards.
“I think people have been trying to change my game and tell me to stop being this physical receiver, because of the pounding, but I don’t think my game has changed at all,” Morgan said. “I definitely wasn’t used as much in Chicago, with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and the year before that, the whole thing, I wasn’t used as much either. I’m fresh.”
Morgan’s last big season came in 2012. Used primarily in a possession role, Morgan caught 48 passes for 510 yards and two touchdowns, leading the team in receptions as the Redskins marched to the playoffs. Washington found a variety of ways to get Morgan the ball over the middle, sending him on slants, crossing patterns and even slipping him out of the backfield at times.
The veteran prides himself on doing that kind of dirty work. In a receivers room full of players who stand 6-foot-3 or taller, Morgan’s 6-foot frame may not stand out, but he carries 220 pounds on his body and welcomes the kind of contact that comes with working the part of the field patrolled by linebackers and safeties.
“That’s who I’ve been my whole career, ever since I started at Virginia Tech,” Morgan said. “Throw me a slant, break tackles, make a big play, just throw me the ball over the middle — whatever you need. No matter where the ball is or how many guys are there, my job is to catch it and make something happen.”
Where Morgan might fit in the Saints’ plans is hard to gauge this early in the summer. New Orleans usually keeps five or six receivers on the 53-man roster after training camp. Colston and Cooks appear to be locks, and the trio of Toon, Coleman and Jones have drawn praise this offseason. If those five make it, Morgan may find himself battling with returning receiver Joseph Morgan, undrafted free agent R.J. Harris and others for the final roster spot.
But Morgan will have plenty of time to make his case. For the moment, he’s trying to learn the system and pick up the terminology while reveling in the chance to work with a quarterback he has always admired from afar.
“With a guy like Drew Brees, you can go out there and utilize all your talents,” Morgan said. “You can catch the deep ball, you can catch the ball across the middle, you can catch a short route and take it a long way. You can go up and get the jump ball. I don’t really know how they plan on using me, but I know every time I get the opportunity, I’m going to try to do everything I can.”
Even if it means he’s going to take a shot in the process.