It isn’t relevant to fixing the problems facing the Lions running game, but it is, without a shadow of doubt, the one factoid every talking head riding on television waves and radio frequencies can recite in an effort to show just how pitiful Detroit has been at running the football: The Lions last player to amass 100 rushing yards in a single game was Reggie Bush back in 2013.
Nothing matters less than this piece of trivial, box score information, but it’s there and I almost sort of hope it never changes so those who find themselves completely fixated on it never find peace. The key to fixing the Lions rushing attack is not making it a point of emphasis to see the volume increase, but instead to see the team become more efficient. Not just in an effort to balance the offense, but to become an offense more capable of sustaining drives. An offense capable of having some freedom to choose, and the ability to play their hand in third-and-short situations without showing their cards to the opponents.
Perusing the ol’ Spotrac for potential cap casualties led me to the New Orleans Saints roster. It’s a team that has to re-sign their franchise quarterback, Drew Brees, and, after doing so, will most likely result in a sizable portion of their roughly $32 million in cap space vanish. As a result, it’s entirely possible the Saints could be marching on without one of their running backs in 2018.
Who knows how likely this is, especially after the incredible 2017 season he put together, but Mark Ingram is a player the Saints might deem expendable this offseason to improve their cap situation and football team.
It seems counterintuitive to let Ingram go after he posted career highs in carries (230), rushing yards (1,124), rushing touchdowns (12), receptions (58), and receiving yards (416), but there are some factors New Orleans will take into consideration.
First, and most obvious, the Saints have an absolute star in 2017’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, Alvin Kamara. He led the league in efficiency when it came to running the football, posting an eye-popping 6.1 yards per carry, and is already one of the most dynamic threats coming out of the backfield as a receiver, finishing second in receptions (81), first in receiving yards (826), and tied for second in receiving touchdowns (5) among all NFL running backs.
Kamara takes up 0.57 percent of the Saints’ cap space, whereas Ingram’s $6.24 million cap hit makes his figure the sixth-biggest on the roster, accounting for over 4 percent of the team’s cap. If New Orleans were to move on from Ingram by either releasing or trading the veteran back, the team could save $4.6 million, a considerable chunk of change at a position where they have Kamara, a perfectly capable and inexpensive replacement.
What’s the market value for a guy like Ingram?
Should the Saints choose to put Ingram on the trade block, it’s always a tough exercise in trying to gauge what it would cost a team in a draft capital for a veteran player. So far this offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs agreed to trade Alex Smith for a third-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but they also received Kendall Fuller, a young, promising, productive and almost always most importantly, cost-controlled cornerback. The Chiefs also will be tradingd one of the top cornerbacks in the league in Marcus Peters and a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for a 2019 second-round pick, and 2018 fourth-round pick.
To get a sense of what Ingram’s price may be, let’s take a look at some recent trades involving running backs.
- The Miami Dolphins decided to move Jay Ajayi at the trade deadline last October, sending him to the Philadelphia Eagles and receiving a 2018 fourth-round selection in return.
- DeMarco Murray spent just one season with the Eagles before the team cut their losses with him after the 2015 season. The Eagles and Tennessee Titans swapping fourth-round picks in the 2016 draft made sense considering the big deal Murray inked at the beginning of the season, and a huge drop off in production from his historic 2014 season with the Cowboys.
- And because it’s always fun to laugh at the bottom-feeders of the AFC, the Trent Richardson trade from the Cleveland Browns to the Indianapolis Colts in 2013 should be remembered for how terribly bad it was for Indy to part with a 2014 first-round pick.
What’s in it for NOLA?
Ingram won’t exactly come cheap, and I say this for a few reasons. For one, why should the Saints move Ingram and his cap figure if they can figure out other ways to create some financial wiggle room this offseason? New Orleans was literally a missed tackle away from giving the Eagles all they could have handled in the NFC Championship Game, and it’s hard to find a reason why the Saints wouldn’t want to get that band back together for an encore.
Also, while Ingram is a little long in the tooth by running back standards (28 years old), he actually hasn’t been saddled with much of workload, comparatively speaking. Ingram has 1,183 carries and 207 receptions in his seven-year career while DeMarco Murray, Ingram’s fellow 2011 NFL Draft classmate, has 1,604 carries and 307 receptions. It’s a fairly safe assumption that Ingram still has quite a bit left in the tank.
What’s it going to cost the Lions?
Draft capital, most likely, because that’s what the league deals in, but you never know what could find its way into a trade in the NFL. The aforementioned deal between Washington and the Chiefs included a pair of players swapping jerseys in Smith and Fuller. A blockbuster trade in 2015 saw Eagles running back LeSean McCoy get sent to the Buffalo in exchange for Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso.
While the Saints seem to be a bit thin at linebacker themselves, the Lions don’t have much depth at that position themselves to be bartering with either. If Detroit were to make a deal happen, it’s going to take a draft pick or two, depending on if the Saints include a pick with Ingram. Maybe one of the following propositions could be an amicable deal for both teams:
- Lions send: 2018 fourth-round pick (117 overall)
- Saints send: Mark Ingram
- Lions send: 2018 third-round pick (82 overall)
- Saints send: Ingram and a 2018 sixth-round pick (189 overall)
In the first deal, it’s similar to the trade Miami and Philadelphia pulled off in the previously mentioned swap of Jay Ajayi for the 130 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The latter seems like a bit of a steep price to pay, but again, Ingram isn’t going to come cheap. The Lions would get a late-round draft pick back in return where they currently don’t have a pick after the trade last June that netted them Greg Robinson. (Editor’s note: It’s still not clear if the Lions have a seventh-round pick as a result of the conditional draft pick in the Johnthan Banks trade.)
Conventional wisdom dictates the Lions should stand pat and nab a running back in April’s NFL Draft, but this team is in a position where it needs to take a step forward in a hurry, and especially so after Jim Caldwell was fired after back-to-back 9-7 seasons. Insert Ingram into Detroit’s backfield, combined with new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, and the Lions could turn around their running game in the matter of an offseason instead of waiting for a rookie runner to get acclimated to the league.
Would you be on board with the Lions trading for Mark Ingram?
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