The New Orleans Saints have a dilemma. The 2017 Draft Class. It's full of talented players and key contributors; but, can they afford to pay them after 2021?
The remaining Saints 2017 draft class members of CB Marshon Lattimore, T Ryan Ramczyk, S Marcus Williams, RB Alvin Kamara, LB Alex Anzalone, and DE Trey Hendrickson have defined roles on the team. Both first-round picks, Lattimore and Ramczyk, will become unrestricted free agents in 2022. If Kamara demands a new contract extension this season, it could have a negative ripple effect within the New Orleans Saints organization in terms of future cap space. New Orleans has been creative with the current cap space ($3,518,011) and signed QB Drew Brees, WR Emmanuel Sanders, G Andrus Peat, S Malcolm Jenkins, and several other unrestricted free-agents in the offseason.
There will be contract challenges and cap situations for the team in 2021 and 2022 with the current personnel. Signing Kamara, Lattimore, and Ramczyk will be complicated, and still need to consider Williams, Anzalone, and Hendrickson. If the Saints can re-sign Alvin Kamara to a contract extension, this will be classified as one of the Mickey Loomis era's shrewdest accounting maneuvers.
GM Mickey Loomis and VP of Football Administration Khai Harley will have to decide who they should pay or let leave in 2021? In the past several years, Loomis and Harley have created cap-friendly packages for players and the team, but next season will be challenging. The players mentioned above are key contributors. Huge contract(s) can disrupt the team’s on-field continuity and organization’s 2021 cap space. Navigating through these issues will be the Loomis' challenge.
The major challenge is how to keep Kamara and keep him happy. Christian McCaffrey’s contract is an issue for the Saints, but not Kamara. Alvin Kamara has factored as a critical player in the Saints’ recent success since his arrival in 2017. I consider the 2017 AP Rookie of the Year as the file’ in the Saints winning gumbo. Kamara’s production directly correlates with the team’s increase in offensive production and balance while in the team’s lineup. Unfortunately for Kamara is the same can be said of Ryan Ramczyk. You cannot forget that defensive leader and All-Pro LB Demario Davis' contract is up for renewal next spring. So, who's more important in the grand scheme of the things for New Orleans?
NFL experts consider the Saints offensive line as one of the league’s best. Ramczyk is gaining a reputation for being a dominant right tackle. In 2018 and 2019, Pro Football Focus honored him as the Best Run Blocker in the NFL. Sean Payton favors stability along the offensive line. Andrus Peat's 5-yr, $57.5M deal to re-sign with New Orleans is a sign for Kamara's camp to understand its direction and philosophy. Most of their larger contracts have been for an offensive and defensive lineman, besides the contracts extended to Drew Brees and Michael Thomas. Kamara faces a significant hurdle for a lucrative contract extension.
ARGUMENT FOR KAMARA
The three top productive running backs from the 2017 NFL Draft, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, and Dalvin Cook, have similar skills, yet are used differently by their respective teams. Kamara battled through a leg injury, which impacted his overall production in 2019. Kamara is an elite player. PFF analyzed Kamara and gave him grades/rankings of a 90.5 (5th) overall, 84.8 (12th) rushing, 91.6 (3rd) receiving, and 26.6% 1D/TD rating for the qualifying 50 running backs over the last three regular seasons. Kamara was the Saints' second-leading receiver to Michael Thomas with 81 receptions. He can be a complete running back.
NFL DRAFT CLASS OF 2017 - TOP 3 RUNNING BACKS PRODUCTION
A question of durability has been an underlying concern for Kamara. When the Saints allowed Mark Ingram to leave for the Ravens in 2018, there were some rumblings about Kamara’s size and physique and if he can take the pounding. Alvin Kamara is a physically gifted football player. His elite traits are lower body strength, elusiveness, and balance. Kamara has been very successful running between the tackles. However, could he handle a full-time role in the Saints backfield for 16 games without sharing the football less than 70%? 2019 was a minor ding to his argument. The Saints could cite his leg injury as a reason against offering a deal close to Christian McCaffrey’s. It would not be in the team’s best interest, but it also complicates both sides' negotiation tactics.
Several scenarios for Kamara and Saints are in play:
- Contract Extension - A contract proposal in the neighborhood of a 3-year deal between $30M to $40M could be a viable option for both the Saints and Kamara.
- Pre-Draft Trade - New Orleans could seek a pre-draft trade to get a value pick for Kamara while still under the rookie contract. Keep in mind, if the coronavirus pandemic continues within the next several months, the NFL and its affiliates may not resume normal business activities in 2020. Hence, the Saints will be without Kamara, and he becomes an unrestricted free-agent in 2021.
- Franchise Tag - The Saints have rarely used it, but this could be a unique circumstance..
- Free Agency - New Orleans has allowed players to seek better terms with other teams in the past. View how they handled Kamara's former backfield mate and friend Mark Ingram. It is not highly unlikely for the Saints to stand firm and wait out the 2020 season before moving towards contract negotiations.
- Holdout - Kamara could decide to holdout and forgo reporting to any team sponsored training camps, rehabilitation sessions, meetings, and OTAs. This move could infuriate the Saints' front-office and coaching staff. Yet, it protects Kamara if a reportable injury occurs under a team sponsored practice or training session.
- Cut - New Orleans is within the team's rights to dismiss Kamara if he violates the NFL's personal conduct code. Kamara has been a model citizen and player during his tenure with the Saints. The likelihood of this occurring is very slim to none.
The New Orleans Saints and Alvin Kamara can take a page from the Carolina Panthers and immediately settle any differences ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft. A swift contract offer will prevent a contentious and messy situation from happening with both factions. If you understand the New Orleans Saints' front-office brass, a Kamara-Saints extension would be a surprise considering the huge paydays in store for the other 2017 draft class members.