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Is Ingram Off The Mark In New Orleans?

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With the final year of his rookie contract coming up, Saints RB Mark Ingram could very well be playing his last season in New Orleans. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.
With the final year of his rookie contract coming up, Saints RB Mark Ingram could very well be playing his last season in New Orleans. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

In recent years, the New Orleans Saints have been fortunate enough to have depth at the running back position. Head coach Sean Payton’s offense favors the pass, but he has fallen in love with the "RB by committee" style when it comes to the run game. They have an extremely talented set of running backs that display the versatility to serve as dual threats. More importantly, the Saints RBs rank near the top in yards after catch year after year.

Unfortunately, with the salary cap issues looming, it seems possible that the team may part ways with one of its four backs. Darren Sproles is a lock to be on the team next year and is signed through the 2015 season. Khiry Robinson, the outstanding undrafted rookie, is expected to become a more integral part of the offense in 2014. Pierre Thomas is expected to generate a cap hit of $2.9 million, which is high for a guy who rotates playing time with three other backs on a weekly basis. Luckily for Thomas, he just posted a career year so that alone may keep him in New Orleans. Mark Ingram only accounts for a $1.3 million cap hit, but his inconsistent play may have resulted in his final days in a Saints uniform.

Ingram seems to be the low man on the totem pole despite having an impressive postseason. During the playoffs, Ingram averaged a career-best 5.2 yards per carry and played like the guy the Saints hoped they were getting when they drafted him in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Sadly, his stats have never amounted to what he accomplished during the postseason this past year, and the Saints’ patience with him may have run out.

Over the course of his three-year career, Ingram has amassed 1,462 rushing yards on 356 attempts, equating to a nice 4.1 yards per carry but once again, I must stress the inconsistency factor. In the receiving department, Ingram has totaled 24 receptions for 143 yards, which sums up his mediocrity as a receiving back when compared to Thomas and Sproles.

In addition, Ingram has not displayed a consistent trio of quickness, speed and elusiveness, something that Sproles, Thomas and Robinson all exhibited throughout the season. Another enigma of Ingram’s has been his inability to remain healthy. Ingram missed six games in 2011 with a foot injury and after an injury-free 2012 season, the injury bug reared its ugly head once again in 2013, causing Ingram to miss five games.

Despite his toe injury, Ingram returned with a vengeance on the grandest stage, a Sunday Night Football matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. In that game, Ingram rushed for a career-high 145 yards and finished with over 10 yards per carry. At that point, Saints fans thought this was why he was drafted in the first round. He finished out the season strong, averaging nearly five yards per carry, although his workload was somewhat limited. Essentially, what Ingram did was show the football world that he had the talent and potential to be a lead back.

Unfortunately, interested parties around the league will look at the countless weeks where he averaged less than two yards per carry and appeared to be severely overmatched by the defense and air on the side of caution. It is doubtful that a team will trade for him before the start of the season.

With the 2014 season being the final year of his rookie contract, do the Saints release Ingram or try to trade him? Either way, it seems eminent that the former Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama has his sights set on a breakout year in order to earn himself a fat paycheck once free agency rolls around in 2015.