There’s not much known about exactly why the Saints recently suspended Joseph Morgan for two games, but after he returned to practice Wednesday, there can be no uncertainty about at least one thing — the Saints’ belief remains that the 26-year-old wide receiver has more up his sleeve than he’s delivered in the four seasons he’s been affiliated with the organization.
“He’s just kind of been biding time, waiting for that opportunity,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said about Morgan, who wasn’t available to speak to reporters Wednesday. “I can’t tell you when he’s going to get his opportunity, but when he does, I know he’ll be ready.”
Any number of outsiders observing the Saints hope Brees is right. To say Morgan’s time in the NFL has been turbulent would be an understatement.
Since making the Saints as an undrafted rookie out of NAIA member Walsh University, Morgan missed the entire 2011 and 2013 campaigns with preseason knee injuries.
That alone would be tough for any player to overcome, but it’s not all Morgan has been through. Police arrested him on suspicion of driving while intoxicated during the 2013 Memorial Day weekend, and he enrolled in a diversion program this past spring to avoid prosecution in the case.
Nonetheless, despite the health and legal problems, Morgan managed to crack the Saints’ 2014 roster as one of six receivers. He even started in a Week 1 visit to Atlanta.
But Morgan didn’t catch a pass on any of his three targets in that defeat, and he hasn’t again appeared in a game for the Saints (4-5).
Around mid-October, Morgan said to a group of reporters that the coaching staff told him it was simply “a matter of when” he’d get back in a game for the Saints.
“It’s a numbers thing,” said Morgan, referring to the fact that the Saints had been activating receivers Brandin Cooks, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and Kenny Stills at the time. “Everybody knows we go into the games with four actives, so (they said) it’s a numbers thing and (to) keep working.”
However, two days before the Saints beat Carolina on the road Oct. 30, Saints coach Sean Payton announced Morgan had been suspended for an undisclosed reason. Payton later explained that it was imposed by the team, but he’s refused to go into specifics.
It wasn’t the first time a team Morgan has been on punished him — before attending Walsh, he began his college career at Illinois, but the program ultimately dismissed him following three disciplinary infractions.
Still, the Saints opted to reinstate Morgan. One obvious reason for that was the jaw-dropping numbers he produced in 2012 after he had recovered from his first knee injury.
Morgan tallied three touchdowns and 379 receiving yards on just 10 catches that year. His 37.9 yards per catch easily would’ve been the best in the NFL, and it wasn’t because only those who average two receptions for every game their team plays can qualify for the league rankings in that statistical category.
“Joe’s a really talented player,” Brees said of Morgan. “He’s shown signs (that he can) be a very productive player.”
But there’s another reason the Saints brought him back, and it’s that the franchise is “absolutely” sure Morgan has the adequate character and make-up to again contribute the way he did two years ago, said Payton, who was down a receiver at New Orleans’ last three practices because of an ankle injury to Meachem.
Meachem’s ankle also sidelined him for the Saints’ loss at home to San Francisco on Sunday, and his place in the lineup was filled by the seldom-used Nick Toon.
On occasion, Morgan has spoken frankly about realizing how important it is for him to succeed both on and off the field. He has two young daughters, and he and his family have both talked about his desire to always be there for them in a way his father couldn’t be there for him as he grew up.
Morgan was 4 when his father was fatally shot in his hometown of Canton, Ohio.
The Saints couldn’t have made it clearer Wednesday that they want to be where Morgan realizes that intention. Morgan’s reinstatement required the Saints to create a roster spot by waiving a player, and they did that.
“Young players ... go through growing pains — that might be professionally, that might be personally,” said Brees, who noted Morgan looked sharp in his first practice back from the suspension. “There was a little hiccup there, but he’s back, we’re excited to have him back, I see him chomping at the bit, I see kind of just a level of focus with him right now. We’ll see where that leads him and how he can help us.”