In the third year of the Alvin Kamara experience, we have as many questions as we did when we first drafted him. In years one and two, New Orleans boasted arguably the best backfield in the league with Mark Ingram and Kamara. We had the steal of the draft, and we still might. Are you confident the Airhead loving, happy-go-lucky, beloved fan favorite running back will return to his freshman and sophomore form? That question is up in the air, and it’s now or never for Alvin to show he’s still that fella.
In today’s day and age, the running back position is in its most vulnerable state yet. Quarterbacks are making all the money. Then the pass rushers, wide receivers, and so on and so forth. Unless the Saints are saved by a miraculous jump in the salary cap in the new collective bargaining agreement, Alvin’s swan song may be up next in the que.
Can you tell me who is the ONLY running back with a top ten salary in 2019 to make the playoffs? Save your time; you’ll never guess it. Duke Johnson. DUKE JOHNSON! Not Gurley. Not Bell. Not Ezekiel. Duke Johnson. So is it worth it to pay your running back? Beauty is is the eye in the beholder, and to all of us, Alvin is a gem. We can all agree that Kamara is very much a special talent. Yes he had a down year, but at the start of next season he will be 25. Not a spring chicken in the running back perspective, but definitely not ready to get his AARP card either.
So what are the Saints’ options?
Option 1: Extend him before 2020 ends
This offseason will be an interesting one for running backs. With the lack of success of teams with top ten salary backs, will teams continue to pay their work horses? The Titans have the NFL’s rushing leader. He’s leading the team into the second round of the playoffs. Henry is coming off of his rookie contract. That contract paired with the talent he has is a luxury. Will they reward him by strapping their cap space to a luxury vehicle with 100,000 miles on it? Or will they tell him thanks for the hard work and then replace him? What the Titans do may serve as a blueprint for the Saints. My guess is that they will commit to Henry and continue to be a heavy run team until the wheels fall off.
If Loomis and Payton go this route, this move comes other players’ walking papers. Possibly Taysom, probably Peat, and many others. If Kamara is to get extended, it should be early. If you wait for the others to get extended first, you lose. The number goes up and up. You don’t want to follow contracts like McCaffery’s, Dalvin Cook’s or Aaron Jones’. It’s a game of chicken really. Gurley was extended with a record deal at the time, and now the Rams are in cap hell. It’s a double edged sword.
Option 2: Let him play out his rookie contract in 2020, then walk in 2021 (if he wants a top deal)
As the old saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Realistically, a top RB deal isn’t on the table for Alvin. But this will give us one final shot with Alvin for a Super Bowl. The Saints have a plethora of players that they’d like to sign.
They have to prepare for Ramcyzk becoming the highest paid tackle. Warford needs an extension. Lattimore will get a second contract that won’t exceed top 4 at the CB position. Marcus Williams will get a second contract below the top of the market. And those are the people on the team we need to re-sign.
Free agents are in high demand as well. But with those moves come other pieces that can’t get paid (Kamara). This is where the Saints will have to draft well to replace him. They can also sign a pass catching back to ease the transition. Theo Riddick will be available. Some silver lining to this scenario is that if Alvin walks, we will get a 3rd round compensatory pick. As well as signing key returners to our team.
Option 3: Trade him
This is the option no one wants. It’s also the hardest option to facilitate. Finding a trade partner will prove difficult. The 2021 running back free agent class is loaded. The only teams that will look at Kamara will be contenders.
The first contender that comes to mind is New England. Sean Payton and Belichick have traded a couple times before. If Brady stays, New England needs a bonafide playmaker to extend his career one more year. I’d try to trade Kamara and a 4th for guard Shaq Mason and 6th. Peat won’t be back unless it’s on a team friendly deal. Mason has 4 years left in his contract at a very good price point. This fills a big need after the way the Vikings exposed the interior line.
Another potential buyer would be the Steelers. Connor also had a down year and may not be worth what he wants to be paid. Kamara much more resembles what they had with Le’Veon Bell than Connor. They would let Connor walk in their 2021 plans and re-sign Kamara to a deal he wants. This makes sense for both sides. They extend Big Ben’s window and the Saints would receive a position of need. I’d propose Kamara and a 5th with the possibility of turning to a 4th for wide receiver James Washington and a 2nd. Michael Thomas is no longer the lone option at wide receiver. Drafting a running back is now a must.
I'm of the belief that we let the situation just play out and DO NOT trade him. His impact is much greater than most of the other options available. If he doesn’t sign a deal that works for both sides in the long term, then so be it. We’d get a compensatory pick and move on with a cheaper option. Latavius Murray is a good back to have and is proven enough to handle the load. We’d need a complementary back that is a good route runner. In a perfect world, we can keep everyone, but there are just too many mouths to feed. Our long term success is paramount, and paying Alvin at the top of RB market isn’t smart. I understand it next offseason if he leaves for more money. I just want to see 41 in black and gold for the 2020 season. Also in 2021, but only if the stars align. Handcuffing the team to a long-term, top end RB deal has proven to be the wrong move for the teams that write those checks. We all love Alvin, but the NFL as a whole hates him for playing the league’s most exciting position.