In today’s NFL, the sentiment “running backs don’t matter” is one floated around quite often. While it may be true to a certain degree, Mark Ingram brought a sense of stability to the Saints’ offense when he returned from suspension in Week 5. Ingram is due to be a free agent this summer, leaving the Saints a big decision to make: To re-sign Ingram or not.
Drew Brees averaged 40.3 attempts per game in the first four games of the season without Ingram and averaged 29.9 attempts per game in his final 11 after Ingram returned. Passing is obviously the most efficient way to score points, but with an aging quarterback whose arm appeared to tire out as the season went on and an elite offensive line, leaning on the running game at times might not be the worst thing for the Saints. Keeping Drew Brees healthy and in tip-top shape is of utmost importance for the Saints. It is evident that he is not the same player who can throw the ball 40 times per game for 18 games and Mark Ingram helps shoulder that load a bit, which is supported by Brees’ decline in pass attempts following Ingram’s return.
Another player that Ingram keeps fresh is his backfield partner Alvin Kamara. Kamara averaged 22.8 touches in the first four games of the season compared to 15.9 touches in the last twelve games of the season. He averaged 12.6 touches per game his rookie season. Kamara did not miss a game and only showed up on the injury report in Weeks 4 and 5 with a knee injury (also Week 9 with an illness) so on the surface, it looks like Kamara had a relatively healthy season. Although Kamara did not miss any games, the fact that he showed up on the injury report with the same injury after carrying such a heavy load is concerning. Every player in the NFL is beaten up by the end of the season but the Saints cannot afford to lose Kamara for an extended amount of time. Kamara has never been a workhorse running back and if Ingram is still effective, it is worth keeping him around to ease Kamara’s load.
As mentioned previously, the “running backs don’t matter” narrative is a popular one around the NFL. However, if this was 100 percent true, the Saints should have been able to find a capable replacement for Ingram while he was out on suspension. Instead, they got 16 carries for 43 yards from Mike Gillislee (2.9 YPA), three carries for nine yards from Jonathan Williams (0 YPA), and two carries for two yards from Dwayne Washington (1.0 YPA). These three combined for two catches for 10 yards. Perhaps now it is clear why Kamara had such a heavy workload the first four games of the season.
Mark Ingram will be 30 years old by the time the 2019 season comes to a close and Father Time comes for everyone, especially running backs. That being said, Ingram became the Saints’ all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and only needs 89 yards to become the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing yards. If Mark Ingram can still do his job effectively, the Saints should resign him to a two-year deal. A cheap running back could be found in the draft, but the Saints only have one pick in the first four rounds and have more pressing needs. The Saints are short on cap space as always, but Ingram may be inclined to take a “team-friendly” deal to remain with the team that drafted him in 2011 and gear up for another Super Bowl run.