As we all know, New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram is set to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent. There will likely be some heavy competition involved to win over the heart of the Black and Gold’s leading rusher in 2014.
The former Alabama standout and Heisman Trophy winner finally broke out of his cage for the Saints this past year, becoming the club’s top rusher in a single season since Deuce McAllister in 2006 and evolving as a pivotal piece to the offensive puzzle.
In 13 games played, Ingram rushed for 946 yards and nine touchdowns on 226 attempts, earning his first Pro Bowl appearance. If it weren’t for a hand injury he suffered against the Cleveland Browns that forced his absence from three contests, he would have surpassed the 1,000-yard mark with ease.
The free agent period begins March 10, and it’s up to the organization to decide whether or not resigning Ingram will be the top priority this offseason. At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN, NewOrleansSaints.com senior writer John DeShazier had a chance to catch up with Sean Payton. The Saints’ head coach praised Ingram, speaking on his recent accomplishments and his significance to the team.
“He (Mark Ingram) had a fantastic season. He’s a player that we look at and have a value for, and he’s our draft pick,” Payton said. “He stayed healthy this year. I couldn’t be more excited to see him have this success, because you see the work behind the scenes, you see the preparation by him, you see the professionalism by him.
“He’s a football guy — he was at Alabama, he was in high school, and it’s good to see him have that type of success, especially a guy that you brought into the program. Now, it’s just asserting or figuring out where’s that number (market value) going to be for him. I’m sure if you’re Mark and you’re Mark’s agent, you’re looking closely at it. Hopefully he’s back in the black and gold, because he’s been a big part of our success offensively.”
With the NFL salary cap set to hit between $140-$143 million, which is at least $1.5 million higher than expected, the Saints still have a bit of work to do in the coming weeks. The team is currently sporting a Top 51 figure of roughly $165 million, but GM Mickey Loomis expects that number to ease up very soon.
How bad do the New Orleans Saints want to preserve Mark Ingram’s talents in the Crescent City? We’re just weeks away from finding out.