Why New Orleans Saints Running Back Alvin Kamara Deserves The Extension He's Asking To Get

The running back did not participate in his final minicamp practice following walkthroughs, leaving the field and making a statement as a contract dispute lingers.
Nov 26, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs the ball past Atlanta Falcons linebacker Nate Landman (53) in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 26, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs the ball past Atlanta Falcons linebacker Nate Landman (53) in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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An extension getting done between the New Orleans Saints and star running back Alvin Kamara feels like it should be a no-brainer. Kamara has been an integral part of the team's offense since he was drafted as a part of the heralded 2017 draft class. But unfortunately, not all things are black and white in the NFL. Especially when it comes to contracts. Similarly, this issue could very well be seen as much bigger outside the facility than it actually is inside. But nonetheless, it will be the team's story of the offseason.

Arguments can be made either way, and with good reason. But I believe that Kamara deserves the extension he is pursuing. Per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, Kamara's camp wants a 2-year extension that guarantees money in 2025.

This would not be far from what we have already seen the Saints do with two other players, safety Tyrann Mathieu and linebacker Demario Davis.

For Mathieu, the team reduced his 2024 base salary to save $6.5 million against this year's cap. In return, they gave the safety a new $5 million signing bonus along with a roster bonus and additional $1 million in guaranteed salary in 2025. A similar deal was given to Davis, but with over $4 million in guaranteed salary next year along with a signing bonus.

The similar approach could be used with Kamara, who currently has none of his $22.4 million 2025 base salary guaranteed. Meaning he basically operating in the final year of his deal this year as no team will keep a non-guaranteed $22 million base salary on the books for a running back.

This does not seem to be a contract dispute about how much money he is being paid in 2024. It feels more like the desire is to simply receive guarantees, and therefore a commitment, from the team for Kamara's near-future. A tough battle for running back, whose positional value is among the most universally contested.

Kamara however exists outside the margins of your typical NFL running back. While his rushing and receiving numbers have dipped over the last few seasons, his promise and ability to attack in both of those areas of the game are undeniable. The team must balance previous production with the expectation of how he will contribute in the Saints' new offense system pioneered by new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak. The scheme seems to be a perfect fit for Kamara.

Kubiak's system promises to put players in the best position to succeed. Something the Saints offense has not been effective in doing over the recent years. Kamara is a talent you want in space, threatening the perimeters of a defense. In 2022, Kamara ran only 83 outside zone runs out of his 194 rushes by my charting.

Among the 49 running backs with at least 100 carries last year, Kamara ranked No. 28 in yards before contact per attempt, per Fantasy Pros. The back was being met by defenders after gaining just 2.4 yards. His running-mate, Jamaal Williams, ranked No. 48 of 49 in that metric at just 1.5 yards.

Simply put, Kamara did not find much space in the Saints 2023 run game. Many will also point out that Kamara averaged just 1.4 yards after contact per attempt. That metric shows how many yards on average a player picks up fighting through contact with the defense. But players like Los Angeles Rams running back Kyren Williams (1.5), D'Andre Swift, who was with the Detroit Lions at the time (1.6) and now-Houston Texans rusher Joe Mixon (1.4) all had similar numbers in that metric.

All three of those backs ranked inside the top-8 in league rushing yards. They did so not only because of sheer volume (each had over 200 rushing attempts in 2023), but with the aid of their offensive lines. All three backs received a boost of more yards before contact than Kamara. Williams and Swift received at least 3 such yards per attempt on average.

Kamara also finished the 2023 season with -7 total air yards in the passing game. A far departure from his previous two season. He has 71 in 2022 and 60 in 2021. The best example of the team's complications getting Kamara more involved in the passing game came in his return from suspension against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4. In that game he had 13 receptions, but for only 33 receiving yards including -19 air yards.

With the direction the Saints' new offense is set to go under Kubiak, it is reasonable to expect that some of the usage that inherently limited Kamara's impact will be conformed in 2024. The wide zone offensive approach heavily features the outside zone run, extending running backs into the passing game and getting players the ball out in space. All of which would bring Kamara back to the play style that put him on the map so immediately as one of the league's star players.

Kamara has expressed his desire to be a "lifer" with the team. To spend his entire career in New Orleans. He has been a vocal leader and one of the team's top contributors, ranking second in combined rushing and receiving touchdowns (19) over the last three years.

Yes, Kamara nearly tops the team in non-quarterback scoring since 2021, the otherwise down years of his production.

That could be a strong counter to the argument to not give Kamara guaranteed money in 2025. Even in the least productive years of his career, he is among the top (behind only Taysom Hill with 20 rushing and receiving touchdowns) scoring contributors on the roster. Some of the limitations Kamara has experienced could be connected to or accredited to his age. Fine. However, a realistic look at what the offense has produced as a whole over the last three years gives the additional context that if used properly, Kamara would be well worth another year of investment.

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Ross Jackson