When discussing his free-agent prospects at the Super Bowl, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell said he was going to be “the prettiest girl at the dance.”
The implications were clear. Maxwell was coming off a good season and there weren’t many other quality cornerbacks scheduled to hit the open market. Maxwell knew then that his market was going to be strong and he would have his choice of suitors.
Mark Ingram likely felt the same way a few weeks ago. The New Orleans Saints running back is coming off the strongest season of his professional career and, as recently as a few days ago, it appeared he would be among the most coveted free agents at his position.
But the view can change quickly when the cruel reality of the NFL decides to show its hand.
Over the past week, running backs Reggie Bush, Steven Jackson and DeAngelo Williams have been released, creating more options for teams looking to sign a back. While Ingram might still be the “prettiest girl” at the ball, a strong middle class means some teams still have palatable options beyond Ingram.
Things could get even worse for Ingram if players like Dallas’ DeMarco Murray, Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller, and New England’s Shane Vereen fail to re-up with their current teams and hit the open market. And that’s without considering a class of rookie backs that is being touted as one of the best in years.
If the Saints have interest in re-signing Ingram, as they’ve said they do, the evolving market is good news for them. It also creates more options.
While Ingram is a step ahead of the other available running backs, some of his negotiating power has been surrendered. If he balks at an offer made by New Orleans, the team can now go and speak with someone like Jackson or Williams, see what their value is, and then use that to determine how much Ingram is worth.
And, really, either player would be a serviceable option in a running back committee. Jackson isn’t the player he was five years ago, but he’s coming off a season with Atlanta in which he rushed 190 times for 707 yards and six touchdowns.
Williams was limited to six games last season, but he was among the most productive running backs in the NFL in 2013, when he averaged 4.2 yards per carry and finished with 843 yards.
By rushing for 964 yards on 226 carries last season, Ingram proved he has the ability to be a lead back, which gives him more value. But if the Saints do not want to pay a premium and determine another running back is needed, Jackson or Williams could be viable options on shorter deals.
It’s also possible the Saints decide they do not need another running back of this profile, move forward with Khiry Robinson and draft a player capable of adding depth.
The additional players added to the market also creates options for how the Saints can approach this position. While he wouldn’t fill the same role as Ingram or Robinson, New Orleans could choose to go after a so-called passing back.
If that’s the case, at the right price, someone like Bush could be an attractive option. The investment would have to be minimal since Bush is aging and comes with injury concerns, but he could add an element the offense lacked last season following the departure of Darren Sproles.
While Bush wouldn’t be leaned upon to carry the load as a lead back, his presence could create mismatches in the passing game, allow him to get chunks of yardage or open things up for other players.
And even if Bush isn’t the man for the job, a player with those skills could be targeted this offseason.
Either way, the options are not good for Ingram since his options could now become less attractive.
But for the Saints, these are good developments.