HOUSTON - Hours after Mark Ingram’s final practice with the Texans, a day of rest spent on the field encouraging teammates, the veteran running back was abruptly traded and reunited with the Orleans Saints.
The Texans agreed to trade Ingram to the Saints in an expected exchange of late-round draft picks, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
Ingram, 32, is a former Saints first-round draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama and a three-time Pro Bowl selection who teams up again with Alvin Kamara in the Saints’ backfield.
Because Ingram was one of the primary leaders in the Texans’ locker room, the leading rusher on the team and a close friend he attended the Astros' World Series opening game with, wide receiver Brandin Cooks expressed displeasure with the trade.
“This is (bull----),” Cooks wrote on social media. “Such a joke.”
Minutes earlier before news of the trade broke, Cooks was discussing the approaching NFL trade deadline Tuesday afternoon and how players handle the emotions and uncertainty. Cooks has experience with the situation having been traded three times previously from the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday’s opponent, the New England Patriots and the Saints.
“At the end of the day, guys know it’s a business,” Cooks said. “We’ve got to keep coming in here doing the best that we can to better ourselves for the team, and all that stuff takes care of itself. Decisions that are out of your control, and you’ve just got to keep coming and work, being a professional.”
Acquired this offseason after being cut by the Baltimore Ravens, Ingram is the Texans' leading rusher with 294 yards and one touchdown run and has averaged 3.2 yards per carry for a languishing running game ranked last in the NFL with a 3.3 average per carry overall.
Ingram has made the most out of the small holes he’s had to run through, earning respect from his teammates.
“I just got out of meetings, so I don’t know the logistics about that,” Texans center Justin Britt said. “But I know that Mark is a really good teammate, a really good leader, good person overall. Any organization would be lucky to have him, and he’ll definitely be missed here.”
Ingram has rushed for 7,618 career yards and 63 touchdowns. The AFC South franchise is off to a 1-6 start and on a six-game losing streak.
Now, Ingram goes back to familiar territory and joins a better team.
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The Texans had signed Ingram to a one-year contract with a maximum value of $3 million this offseason.
The transaction included a $500,000 signing bonus and incentive clauses that should provide motivation for the former Pro Bowl selection to revitalize his production after falling on the depth chart last year in the Ravens’ backfield.
The Texans will turn toward David Johnson, who’s rushed for 104 yards, and Phillip Lindsay, who’s gained only 97 yards, as their primary backs. They can also utilize Scottie Phillips, a former undrafted free agent from Mississippi who led the Texans in rushing yards during the preseason that has been inactive for six of seven games this season.
“It sucks coming out here getting your butt kicked and losing games,” Ingram said after a 31-3 road loss to the Indianapolis Colts during which he rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries.. “Obviously, losing sucks but we’re trying to get better. You can talk about it all you want. You can emphasize it all you want but until you have the discipline to go out there, know the snap count and know the cadence of the quarterback's tone and what we're going on, you're just going to have those errors.
“Every individual person has to be accountable, be disciplined, be fundamentally sound. Pre-snap penalties ,that's bad football. Individually, it’s just the focus. It’s the discipline. It’s the small attention to details. And we have to continue to get better at that if we want to turn this thing around.”
Ingram might not be the last Texans player to be traded this year.
Of course, embattled Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson has a standing trade request and discussions have been ongoing with the Miami Dolphins with no deal imminent.
Although there’s been speculation about Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil and Cooks, those players are not expected to be made available for potential trades, according to league sources.
Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham, who was replaced in the starting lineup by Kamu Grugier-Hill, was signed to a four-year, $58 million contract last year that was restructured this offseason. He’s one of the more talented candidates for a potential trade along with safety Justin Reid and tight end Jordan Akins.
Cunningham was asked if the trade deadline is a topic in the locker room as the team, which is mired in a six-game losing streak, prepares for a home game against the Rams at NRG Stadium.
“I mean there are going to be conversations, but everyone pretty much just focused on the next game, the next team that we have to play,” Cunningham said. “That’s the main focus that we have.”