Brian Allee-Walsh

Saints RB Mark Ingram is on the verge of entering free agency. Here’s what to expect.

Saints RB Mark Ingram on sharing the load with rookie Alvin Kamara

Saints running back Mark Ingram speaks about sharing the rushing load with rookie Alvin Kamara. The Saints play the Panthers on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2017.
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Saints running back Mark Ingram speaks about sharing the rushing load with rookie Alvin Kamara. The Saints play the Panthers on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2017.

Veteran New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram has reached the proverbial fork-in-the-road in his NFL career.

Assuming he does not reach a new contract agreement with the Black and Gold before his current four-year, $16 million deal expires at the end of the NFL business year March 12, Ingram will become a free agent and eligible to shop his talents.

I think it’s safe to say he will test the market, and he should.

All it takes is one team to fall in love and I’m fairly certain he will have a suitor or two. He’s a good player, still capable of being a featured back at age 29, though he shares center stage in New Orleans with a younger, faster and more versatile runner/receiver in Alvin Kamara.

Together they form a terrific tandem dubbed “Boom & Zoom.’‘

Kamara supplies the Zoom and Ingram delivers the Boom.

In due time, Kamara will get his fair share of big-time NFL money. Soon to enter his third season, he’s still working on his rookie deal. Ten months south of 30, Ingram is entering the twilight of his career by NFL running back standards.

Depending on the length of his next deal, this could be Ingram’s last NFL rodeo and he wants to make a big splash.

As in all contract negotiations, it’s all about guaranteed money. As long as Ingram values himself correctly and doesn’t price himself out of New Orleans, I see the marriage continuing for several more years. If Ingram shoots for the moon and over estimates his worth, Ingram won’t be wearing the Black and Gold uniform again.

Here’s how I see this negotiation playing out:

Ingram and Detroit-based VIP Sports Management agents Paul Bobbitt and David Jones will hold preliminary talks with Saints GM Mickey Loomis, if they haven’t already. They will lay the ground work for an equitable agreement. The problem is what might be equitable for one party may not be equitable for the other.

Look for Ingram to aim high, citing his two 1,000-yard seasons, two Pro Bowl selections, 55 TDs and being on the cusp of becoming the franchise’s all-time leading rusher while pointing to the amount of tread still left on his tires. In eight seasons, he has rushed 1,311 times, approximately 100 fewer carries than Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley who entered the league in 2015.

Ingram, a Heisman Trophy-winner at Alabama and the 28th overall pick in the 2011 draft, also served a season-opening four-game suspension in 2018 for PED usage.

Predictably, Loomis will cite Ingram’s age and his reduced role in the offense because of Kamara’s game-breaking ability both as a runner and receiver.

If a deal can’t be struck early in March, look for Ingram to test free agency with the understanding that he would give Saints officials the right of first refusal if an offer comes his way. Loomis oftentimes prefers to have others set the market price. Yes, the GM runs the risk of losing the player but the market also can put the player’s “real’‘ value in proper perspective.

Ingram might get more money elsewhere. But I contend he’d be better off in New Orleans sharing the workload with Kamara and remaining a valued asset for a Super Bowl-caliber team and franchise that features QB Drew Brees, WR Michael Thomas, coach/offensive guru Sean Payton and a loyal, loving fan base.

The money may be greater in another NFL city but the grass isn’t always greener.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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