NFL franchises have until May 3 to decide whether or not to exercise the 5th year options on their 2011 first round draft picks. Having already exercised the option on Defensive End Cameron Jordan, the New Orleans Saints, owners of two first rounders from that loaded draft, have still yet to come to a concrete decision on their other top pick from that group, Running Back Mark Ingram.
Should the team choose to pick up Ingram's option, the former Heisman winner would stand to earn over $5 million, which is a price tag that not only exceeds Ingram's production on the field, but is a higher rate than most free agent backs can get on the open market nowadays. For instance, Knowshon Moreno, coming off the best season of his career, will earn just over $3 million next season after signing with the Miami Dolphins as a free agent. Less than $2 million of that figure will be paid in his base salary. Will the Saints exercise Mark Ingram's 5th year option?
The Saints are still high on Ingram, and his reasonably strong finish to the 2013 season only strengthened those feelings. But even if he takes another productive step in the right direction in terms of his development as a runner, the team could still likely retain Ingram at a much more team-friendly rate.
Ingram is not likely to put up top-10 statistics as he will continue to share snaps with the likes of Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet. Despite the team's decision to ship scatback Darren Sproles to the Eagles last month, Ingram will still be firmly ensconsed in a timeshare with his aforementioned teammates, and the possibility of adding another Running Back in the draft still exists.
Even if he were to have a career season in 2014, it makes almost as much sense to bypass the 5th year option and negotiate a long-term extension with Ingram as a free agent as it did to exercise Jordan's option, a move that was a sure fire no-brainer. Jordan is looking at a monster payday after the 2015 season, and given his production at the position he plays, exercising his option at a rate near $7 million is much better business than paying Ingram the over $5 million he would be scheduled to earn under the terms of his option year.
Through three seasons as a pro, Mark Ingram has rushed for 1,462 yards and 11 touchdowns on 356 attempts. In addition to the Saints' committee approach at the tailback position, Toe injuries have also slowed the former Alabama rusher, though he appeared to round into form at the tail-end of the 2013 season. Ingram averaged over 6.5 yards per carry over the team's final 2 regular season matchups, while running for 146 yards on 28 carries and a score in the playoffs.
Ingram took advantage of the Philadelphia Eagles' alignment to tally 97 yards on the ground in the team's wildcard victory, as Philly had game-planned to try and prevent Drew Brees from picking them apart with his arm. However, the sledding was tougher in Seattle as Ingram lost a costly fumble and was held to 49 yards as the Saints fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks. The team will hope that a healthy and well-conditioned Ingram can use his strong finish to set him up for more success in 2014.
Ingram has enjoyed most of his success when defenses line up in their Nickel packages. He averages 5.2 YPC against nickel defenses, while posting a more modest 4.3 YPC against base defenses. The Saints were able to use this to their advantage in their wildcard matchup with the Eagles, and hope to see the former Crimson Tide star put up better numbers against the stout base defenses he will face next season.
Though keeping Mark Ingram on board for more than just next season is very likely, it is just as unlikely that New Orleans decides to exercise his option year. It would not only be good business, but common sense, as Ingram should be able to be kept at a much lower rate. Nevertheless, the 24 year old could give the Saints every reason to pay him next spring with a strong 2014 campaign. Quite frankly, it's a problem the team would probably like to take on.