You’re lying if you predicted the New Orleans Saints losing Latavius Murray would be what sends the fanbase into open civil war. Let’s keep it real, here: Murray is a past-his-prime player that nobody expected much of when he signed with the Saints practice squad on Sept. 13. That he ended up having a good game in Week 4’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings was a pleasant surprise. He hadn’t gotten so much as an invitation to a group workout in free agency since his Baltimore Ravens contract expired back in January.
When the opportunity to get a pay raise and step into the Javonte Williams-less Denver Broncos backfield presented itself on Monday, Murray jumped at the chance. He was earning pennies on the dollar with the Saints practice squad while slotted in behind Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram II, Dwayne Washington, and Tony Jones Jr. on the 53-man roster. It shouldn’t take him long to take the lead spot in Denver’s rotation. If he’d wanted to remain in New Orleans, he could have told the Broncos no-thanks, but he smartly saw this as a better opportunity.
That doesn’t mean the Saints couldn’t have done more to keep Murray in the building — though we’re working with “hindsight is 20/20” analysis in pointing that out. But for a team that has struggled to run with consistency and has made puzzling personnel decisions all year, this can’t be overlooked. It isn’t much on its own. But it might be a symptom of something worse within the organization: no attention for detail.
Let’s recap what happened over the weekend. On Saturday, the Saints downgraded Jameis Winston to rule him out of Sunday’s game with the Vikings. At the same time, they signed practice squad quarterback Jake Luton to their 53-man roster, suggesting they want to protect him from other teams’ poaching for multiple weeks. To open a spot for Luton, they released fullback Adam Prentice, who cleared waivers and is currently a free agent. They could have done that same procedure for Murray, but instead opted to make him a single-game elevation from the practice squad, along with tight end/fullback J.P. Holtz. Deactivating Jones and calling up Murray would suggest their spots on the depth chart were flipped, but that wasn’t reflected on their roster status.
So when Murray reverted to the practice squad after the game on Sunday, the Broncos were able to swoop in and make him a nice offer on Monday, and it was in his best interest to accept it. That wouldn’t have been the case had the Saints signed Murray to the 53-man roster on Saturday when they promoted Luton. They could have waived another player (like reserve running back Tony Jones Jr., who Murray was activated ahead of against Minnesota) or made Luton a single-game elevation instead. Murray rightly made the decision to leave, but the Saints had an opportunity to keep him from making that decision in the first place.
The team’s decision to not do that and expose Murray to poaching came back to bite them. Again, losing Murray isn’t going to sink their season. But this lack of attention to detail has started to define the Dennis Allen era. His team is practicing lax ball security and racking up procedural penalties that should have been cleaned up in practice. Routine personnel moves aren’t working out. There’s a very real possibility that they won’t get any sort of compensation for All-Pro talents like Marcus Williams and Terron Armstead leaving in free agency.
And that all comes back to leadership and the top of the organization. Mickey Loomis is the longest-tenured general manager in the NFL, but we’re seeing as many own goals from his front office as from Allen’s product on the field. There isn’t any evident eye for detail that we saw for years with Sean Payton steering the ship. Right now, the team just looks rudderless. Now, Payton’s teams definitely lost players they should have retained, at times getting too cute with procedural moves (remember Trill Williams getting claimed off the waiver wire by the Miami Dolphins last summer?), but at least they were making up for those mistakes by winning a lot of football games. There isn’t much positivity on or off the field for New Orleans right now.
That’s not to say it’s going to stay that way. We’re only four weeks into a five-month season. The experience that Loomis and his brass bring to the table should come into play sooner or later. This isn’t Allen’s first rodeo, either. He and his coaching staff have every tool at their disposal to work with and get this team back on track. With four of their next five games at home, it’s a great opportunity to shake back to .500 in front of a friendly crowd and go on a tear. They really can’t afford to keep losing games.