No guarantee, no problem: Ingram has to earn his future with Saints _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ -- Khiry Robinson, left, has the ball stolen from him by Mark Ingram as they warm up before the New Orleans Saints players participate in the Black and Gold Hoops Challenge III basketball game Wednesday at the Jefferson Playground gym. The Saints' opponents were local police officers, firefighters and military members. The event benefits team ambassador/former kick return specialist Michael Lewis' Striding For Your Dreams Foundation, dedicated to mentoring young adults; and the healthcare-oriented nonprofit 'Get Checked or Check Out!'

Running back Mark Ingram and defensive end Cameron Jordan are close.

Not only are they friends and fellow 2011 first-round draft picks for the Saints, but their lockers are next to each other at their team’s practice facility. They sat next to one another on the bench while participating at a charity basketball game at Jefferson Playground on Wednesday when there were a dozen other seats they could’ve chosen.

Lesser friends might have let it be a point of tension when the Saints in by late April exercised an option to keep Jordan through 2015 and give him a substantial raise but didn’t do the same with Ingram, though they could have.

But not these two. These two have already forgotten it.

“You don’t think about what’s guaranteed the next year,” said Jordan, a first-time Pro Bowler in January whose base salary from 2014 to 2015 will jump from $1.44 million to $6.97 million. “I’m worried about this first upcoming preseason game (at) the Rams (on Aug. 8). I’m worried about the first regular-season game ... in Atlanta (on Sept. 7).

“Because honestly, we both need a (Super Bowl) ring on our fingers. That’s what we really need.”

Ingram — whose base salary would’ve gone from $1.39 million in 2014 to $5.21 million in 2015 had his option been activated — seemed equally at peace with the situation.

“We had a good conversation, and they love me as a player,” said the former Heisman Trophy winner and BCS champion out of Alabama when asked to describe what kind of talks he had with the Saints when they passed on his option. “They want me to be here. It’s just the number is a lot higher than what most running backs get on the free-agent level.”

Ingram added that he’s not looking at the upcoming season as an opportunity to make the Saints regret the decision they made with him. His focuses are simple as he toils through voluntary organized team activities and a mandatory minicamp in June: “Getting in the playbook. Do the best I can every game. Help us win games, and everything will take care of itself.”

Things had definitely started taking care of themselves for Ingram at the end of the last season. After gaining a paltry 31 yards on 17 carries during the first two weeks of the 2013 regular season, he sat out the next five games with a toe injury. But he returned for the last nine games of the season, averaging 5.8 yards a carry to gain 355 yards and score a touchdown on 61 rushes.

Then, in the postseason, Ingram tallied 5.2 yards per attempt for 146 yards on 28 carries and another touchdown in two playoff games before the Saints were eliminated.

Ingram lost a fumble in the season-ending playoff defeat at Seattle. Yet he piled up 97 of his playoff yards in a 26-24 wildcard-round victory at Philadelphia the week before to help the Saints claim the first true road postseason win in franchise history, in frigid temperatures few believed New Orleans could handle.

“Mark rushed for (almost) 100 yards in the postseason when we needed it the most,” said Jordan, whose 12.5 quarterback sacks during the 2013 regular season led the Saints and were the fifth most in the NFL. “It’s like 17 degrees outside, and he goes off for (nearly) 100 yards.

“When he has games like that, it really puts it into perspective. As long as you persevere, eventually your talent is going to shine out.”

Jordan reached out to Ingram and slapped hands with him as he spoke those words.

Acknowledging that 2014 suddenly represented a contract year for him when the deadline for his option lapsed, Ingram denied feeling any more pressure to perform than usual.

“It’s all part of the business, coming into a ... free-agent year,” Ingram said. “I’m excited to get going and show what I can do.”