Locked in the catacombs of a Sean Payton backfield, Mark Ingram bided his time. After being selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints, Ingram was relegated to supplemental duty, sharing time with Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Khiry Robinson, among others. Yet Ingram finally found the light in 2014, breaking free of his bench-warming duties to rush 226 times for 964 yards and nine touchdowns.
Ingram’s 2014 stats are most impressive as the rusher played just 13 games. Yet it was not the short amount of time Ingram played, but his effectiveness in that span. With a yard per carry average of 4.3, Ingram was tied for 20th in the league. Solid, but nothing to write home about. Where Ingram stakes his claim to be one of the most highly-paid free agents is in his explosiveness.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Ingram had 12 runs of over 15 yards, accruing 246 yards on those carries. The significance here is that Ingram had a breakaway percentage of 25.5%, ranking him 14th in the league in explosiveness. This means that Ingram reached a first-down quality run on a quarter of his rush attempts. Ingram’s ability to shift into that extra gear is what makes him such a hot commodity in a crowded free agent market.
The 25 year old broke the 100-yard barrier four times in 2014, and is now looking for a major payday. But what is his value on the open market? Last offseason, a 27-year-old Toby Gerhart, who had never started anything close to a full season, earned a 10 million dollar contract over three years from the Jacksonville Jaguars. This is a good floor for Ingram’s expected value, at $3,500,000 per season.
In 2012, a then 24-year-old Jonathan Stewart, signed a five-year $36.5 million contract worth $7.3 million per season with the Carolina Panthers. This would be a good value for the ceiling of Ingram’s worth on the open market. While Stewart had much more of a resume to stand behind than Gerhart, both players received paydays by their respective team’s in the hopes that they would be the starting running back moving forward. Both players’ careers were derailed by either injury or ineffectiveness, but the contracts given out still represent at least some interest in signing high-upside running backs.
Thus, Mark Ingram is certainly worth a deal somewhere in between these two aforementioned deals. Considering the Saints remains nearly $22 million over the cap, Ingram will find a new home on the open market. Ingram’s age, explosiveness, and potential will earn him a nice chunk of change in free agency. Money that is well deserved for a breakout candidate entering the 2015 season.
Photo: USA Today