The New Orleans Saints’ potent running game will be short on some firepower to start the season.
The NFL has suspended Mark Ingram for the first four games of the 2018 season for violating its policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He will be eligible to participate in all offseason activities, including preseason games, but will not be able to take the field during the season until Week 5 against the Washington Redskins.
The Pro Bowl running back became one of the focal points of the offense over the past two seasons and is coming off his best season in which he rushed for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns on 230 carries, averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. He also caught 58 passes for 416 yards.
Ingram paired with Alvin Kamara and helped turn the Saints offense into a balanced attack, one against which defenses sometimes attempted to stop the running game instead of focusing on the pass. That might not be as much of a problem at the beginning of this season with one of the key pieces missing.
That means the Saints will likely lean on Kamara to do the heavy lifting early in the season, and, if they don't add any veterans, look toward Trey Edmunds and rookie Boston Scott to help ease the burden until Ingram returns. New Orleans also recently took steps to bolster its passing attack by signing wide receiver Cam Meredith and drafting Tre’Quan Smith. The Saints also added Ben Watson at tight end.
The 2017 offensive rookie of the year, Kamara was a revelation last season, rushing for 728 yards and catching 81 passes for another 826. He probably can handle a bigger role in the running game, but he’ll need to prove it after never logging more than 12 carries in a single game.
While the Saints should be able to manage on offense against the Buccaneers, Browns, Falcons and Giants to start the season, losing Ingram might hurt more in the finer details, such as pass protection and in the screen game. As far as the overall offensive approach, it will likely mean less balance to start the season, and a slightly bigger role for Kamara.
The Saints should figure out a way to overcome this, and one of the blessings might be that Ingram's suspension will be out of the way before the team hits the meat of its schedule. If Ingram stays in shape and doesn't have any other setbacks, he should theoretically be able to step back in and reclaim his role.
Still, this suspension comes at a bad time for Ingram. He’s entering the final year of his contract and recently switched agents with an eye on securing another deal.
The NFL Network reported Tuesday that the veteran has not been around during voluntary workouts and does not plan to show up for organized team activities. Perhaps the good thing for him is that the suspension comes at the start of the season and he will have 12 games to rehabilitate his image before he potentially reaches free agency.
The 28-year-old recently talked about his future. Ingram said he believes his best football is still in front of him and that he would like to finish his career with the Saints.
“That would be lovely to be appreciated and loved by my team that drafted me and where I became a man and grew a family and where I have lots of brothers,” Ingram said. “I love the organization, I love my teammates, love my coaching staff.
“It’s a business at the end of the day. Peyton Manning got cut. You can’t expect anything. They let one of the best ever go. I hope for the best, and I hope to be here.”
Right now, Ingram and the Saints both need to figure out how to get through the first four weeks and see how things go from there. It’s a big hit for both the player, who is looking for one more good contract, and a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
First, you have to acknowledge the New Orleans Saints were lucky last season.