The Saints currently have four running backs on the roster that are, barring injury, essentially guaranteed roster spots in 2011 - Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Chris Ivory. Yes, Reggie's status is still in limbo but based on the recent comments in the media made by both the Saints brass and Bush himself, I think it's safe to say there's a decent chance he's coming back. For the time being, too, he's under contract. We're not even talking about Lynell Hamilton, a proven runner and special teamer who is currently a longshot because he's coming back from a serious injury.
The five guys I just listed all have an injury history. Based on the way last year played out and the rash of poor health the Saints have had at the position, the current thinking is they'll hang on to as many capable runners as possible. At what point, though, if they all remain healthy (unlikely I know), do the Saints decide to bolster their depth elsewhere? That makes me wonder if Chris Ivory could be a perfect trading piece.Let's consider the facts: Chris Ivory is not the type of guy on paper that you might expect to be a Saint. He showcased a checkered past from a character standpoint, had serious ball security issues and could not stay healthy for even one season in college. That's how he was able came to the Saints as an undrafted rookie. No one expected it to all come together for Ivory in his rookie NFL season and yet he led the team with 716 rushing yards and an extremely impressive 5.2 yard per carry average.
But that's just it: his stock has never been higher. The Saints may never get a higher return on Ivory than they could right now, especially when you consider how minimal his contract is. Despite that big year, he managed to hurt himself a couple times and played most of the year with a banged up hamstring. The injury history with Ivory is still as much of a concern as ever, and while being behind Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram in the pecking order for the bulk of carries should help his durability, you have to think he's a ticking time bomb given his vicious running style.
Do the Saints even want Ivory now that they've secured Pierre Thomas long term and drafted Ingram? The big question, again, is injuries. Obviously if either PT or Ingram go down for any length of time whatsoever next season, especially early on, the need for Ivory increases. In fact, I'd argue that Ivory is a superior short yardage guy to those two and in some down/distance situations Ivory would be the best back on the roster.
But maybe it's the naively hopeful person in me that wants to believe there is no way the Saints are going to get decimated with injuries at running back like they were last year. I know Hamilton/Bush/Ingram/Thomas/Ivory often get hurt, so you have to consider the track records. But still, I can't imagine the Saints are going to be stuck starting Ladell Betts again after five straight guys ahead of him go down. I sure hope not. Did I just inadvertently curse the Saints?
Point being: the return on Ivory may never be better and if Lynell Hamilton proves he's recovered from his injury, he's a more useful No. 4 back to the Saints with his special teams prowess. Ivory becomes less useful as a No. 4 back because he'll be behind Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram in the pecking order. I don't need to tell you guys by now that the reserve players on your roster need to contribute on special teams. All NFL teams have limited roster spots and if you're not a feature back on a team, you need to contribute in other areas. Ivory is the best power runner on the roster, but it's not like Hamilton can't fill the role admirably in that department, too.
This is obviously a moot point if Pierre Thomas has an ankle setback in pre-season, but if the Saints go into the 2011 season with everyone healthy, would you take the 3rd round pick return the Saints would potentially get for Ivory?