From the moment Mark Ingram was selected with the 28th overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, he was placed in an impossible situation. Ingram was twenty yards behind the line of scrimmage before he ever took his first handoff. His selection by New Orleans was a direct reaction to the Saints halfback situation four months earlier at Seattle in the playoffs.
The current New Orleans Saints backfield was acquired in the following ways:
Travaris Cadet - Undrafted Free Agent
Chris Ivory - Undrafted Free Agent
Pierre Thomas - Undrafted Free Agent
Darren Sproles - Free Agent (originally a 4th round pick of the Chargers)
Mark Ingram - 1st Round Pick, 28th overall (1st in 2012 + 2nd in 2011)
This fact alone has put Mark Ingram under the most pressure to perform among the Saints backfield. In his first season with New Orleans, Darren Sproles set the NFL single-season record for all-purpose yardage, so his status was established early on. Chris Ivory's and Pierre Thomas' value over price coupled with their on-field effort put them in good graces quickly as well. As a 1st round pick and Heisman Trophy winner, Ingram's expectations started out high and they will stay there permanently.
The Saints and the Heisman Tailback
Over the last three decades, the Saints have selected four Heisman Trophy winning tailbacks in the 1st round of the NFL Draft, starting with George Rogers in 1982. More recently the Saints have selected Ricky Williams (1999), Reggie Bush (2006), and now Mark Ingram (2011). In 1999 the Saints infamously traded their entire draft, plus a 1st and 3rd the following year for Williams. In 2006 the Saints took Bush 2nd overall, making him the highest selected running back in the draft since Ki-Jana Carter in 1995 (1st overall). Most recently, the Saints traded a 2nd round pick in 2011 and a 1st the following year to move back into the 1st round to select Ingram.
Clearly the Saints have an unhealthy obsession with Heisman winning tailbacks. Sorry NCAA, everyone knows Reggie Bush won the Heisman, we all saw it happen. Since 1999, every Heisman winning halfback that has entered the draft has been selected by the New Orleans Saints with their first pick. The only exception being Ron Dayne in 2000, but if the Saints had a 1st round pick that year I'm sure they would've used it on Dayne just to complete the set. Ironically, it was the one and only non-Heisman winning 1st round pick that became the most productive and beloved Saints halfback of all, Deuce McAllister (2001).
Mark Ingram will always be unfairly evaluated due to the Heisman albatross and the price paid to select him.
Value Equals Patience
Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas, and Chris Ivory will always be beloved in New Orleans and always be extended the courtesy of patience because they excelled at such low cost to the franchise. Their value versus their draft selection has been comically beneficial to the Saints. To a certain extent this applies to Drew Brees as well, at least pre-2012 contract Drew Brees. For what he has provided the Saints, Drew Brees has been one of the greatest steals in NFL history and for that alone he has incredible leverage with the Saints and Who Dat Nation as a whole. New Orleans loves an underdog, always has, always will.
Mark Ingram will never be extended this courtesy as long as he wears black and gold. His cost versus value is far too severe.
Unwillingness to Commit
To say that the Saints have given Mark Ingram every chance to succeed in New Orleans over the past two seasons would be completely false. Ingram missed games due to injury in his rookie season of 2011, so let's look at his 2012 season in comparison to other halfbacks drafted in the 1st round since Ingram:
|2012||New Orleans Saints||16||5||156||602||3.9||31||5||6||29||4.8||16||0||--||--|
|2012||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||16||16||319||1,454||4.6||70T||11||49||472||9.6||64T||1||1||1|
Ingram is getting roughly half the carries of his contemporaries in as many games. He is also seeing drastically fewer passes coming his way which means the Saints are telegraphing their playcalling when Ingram is on the field. When Ingram is on the field, the Saints are extremely unlikely to throw the ball to him, effectively taking another weapon away from Drew Brees.
Ironically, Trent Richardson is the very man Ingram split carries with during their college career at Alabama. As seen above, Richardson is being utilized as a 1st round pick halfback should be. In Cleveland, Richardson received 202 more carries than the next halfback on the depth chart. That, my friends, is commitment to a 1st round pick halfback. That is having confidence in your decision and getting the most out of your selection.
Timing Is Everything
Although I was never infected with "Ingramania," I like Mark Ingram as a person and a football player. He stays out of trouble and he doesn't moan and complain about "not getting his touches." He soldiers on for the greater good of the team. Dave Cariello wrote an insightful piece on Ingram's potential and productivity, and I tend to agree with him.
Let's all be objective here though, the Saints will never see Ingram fulfill his potential here in New Orleans. This situation has always been and always will be unfair to Ingram and to the Saints. From a career standpoint, it may not have been tears of joy Mark Ingram shed on draft night, but tears of envisioning his career toil in mediocrity due to the philosophy in New Orleans.
Sean Payton can run the Saints offense with or without Ingram. He is more of a luxury than a necessity and the Saints roster can afford few luxuries at this time. For Mark Ingram, 50% of the carries on a run-oriented offense will equal success, but 25% of the carries on a pass-oriented offense is just a waste of his talents, which the Saints and the fans will never see.
If the Saints are never going to truly utilize Ingram then what was the point? The Saints need to either hand over the reigns of the running game to Ingram or move on completely. For his sake and the sake of the organization and the fans, it's time to "tear off the bandage" and trade Mark Ingram.
Finding a Reasonable Suitor
Why attempt to trade Ingram now? Because, quite frankly, his trade value will never be any higher. This is the Saints one shot to pull the trigger and get any type of value for Ingram. The deal is done and the Saints aren't going to come remotely close to the 1st and 2nd they gave up for him initially, but that doesn't mean that there isn't value out there. Expectations just need to be tempered when evaluating what a halfback is worth in the NFL today.
Ingram can be very attractive to a franchise in need of a starting halfback. He is just 23 years old and has very little mileage for a halfback after two NFL seasons. It's a matter of the Saints finding the right trading partner at the right price. Like that familiar Who Dat mantra goes, "Make it happen, Loomis!".
Flip That Pick
For the sake of this discussion I have isolated a familiar trading partner for the Saints: The Miami Dolphins. They have very important qualities needed in a trade for Ingram.
Need for a halfback - Miami has only oft-injured Daniel Thomas and sparingly-used Lamar Miller at halfback as Reggie Bush will not be re-signed as an unrestricted free agent.
Necessary assets - For this upcoming draft, Miami has two 2nd, two 3rd, and two 7th round picks. The Saints desperately need more draft picks.
A love of Saints halfbacks - As much as the Saints love Heisman winning tailbacks, the Dolphins love to pick up those same players via trade just a few years later, Ricky Williams in 2002 and Reggie Bush in 2011. Bush followed Williams right after his departure, now that Bush is leaving why not continue the strange tradition with Ingram.
In Miami, or any other potential destination, Ingram should easily become a 1,000+ yard rusher per season. Ideally the Saints could trade Ingram for a 2nd and a 7th, but if the Saints could land a 3rd and a 7th, they should take it and not look back. Whether this type of scenario would be beneficial to the Dolphins would be up to that franchise and their fans based on their most pressing needs. I think it works, may fate be with you if you're depending on Thomas and Miller to give you a dependable rushing attack.
The Saints need to put aside pride and do what's right for the organization, the fans, and Ingram himself. Let it go. The pick was a reaction, the Saints needed help at halfback due to a rash of injuries at the worst possible time. Now a talent is being wasted and a luxury stands in the way of progress. The Saints will never recover true value, but that's their own fault. Mark Ingram's value will never be higher than it is right now.
The time to part ways is now, and honestly, it's for the best for all involved.