Kamara, who holds the record for most wins above replacement by a rookie running for his work back in 2017, has had a consistent impact on a Saints offense that has finished second, second and fourth in expected points added (EPA) per play on offense the last three years (including playoffs).
It appears the Saints are taking Alvin Kamara's holdout threat very seriously as they look for a potential trade partner for their star running back. This could be the Saints “negotiating via the media” and trying to leverage Kamara into returning, but Anderson tends to report from the perspective of the players.
Kamara burst onto the scene in 2017 and ate away at Mark Ingram II's touches from Day 1. From that point on, he has never looked back.
There's only one running back in the NFL who belongs in the same breath as Kamara, and that's the $16-million-per-year man Christian McCaffrey. The NFC South rivals have put up video game numbers over the last few years, as both are capable of running routes from the slot and out wide. Kamara clearly wants to be paid like an elite three-down back, and it's hard to argue against his logic.
There are currently two things working against Kamara at present: First, the Saints have the most precarious salary-cap situation in the NFL at the moment, as we discussed yesterday. Second, we recently learned that Kamara played through a torn MCL — among other injuries — last season. Kamara was probably hoping to be rewarded for gutting through an awful injury as the Saints made their playoff push; instead, he has yet to receive a substantial offer from New Orleans.
Jeff Duncan of The Athletic has heard that the Saints' current offer sits somewhere in the Derrick Henry/Joe Mixon range of $12-$12.5 million per year. This is an insulting offer for Kamara, and he has every right to be upset.
Duncan has additionally reported that the Saints would be asking for a first-round pick if they do end up shopping their prize running back. We would be pretty surprised in the year 2020 if a team was willing to give up a first-rounder for the right to pay a running back $15.5 million per year, but anything is possible.
There's also one final wrinkle for New Orleans, which may be providing them with some nice leverage: Leonard Fournette is a proud New Orleanian, and he is now looking for a new home. It is conceivable to think the Saints feel as though they have the inside track on a Fournette signing, potentially for a hometown discount, as Fournette looks to get his career back on track. While Fournette is not the player Kamara is, it's a nice position to be in if you're the Saints.
Nevertheless, we knew this day was eventually coming — and this is truly just the beginning. Eventually, there was going to be a Saints player that the team just couldn't afford to keep around, and it appears Kamara may be the odd man out. While we would obviously agree that running back is a position where you can afford to be cheap, and while we are fans of Kamara's backup in Latavius Murray, this could still be a big loss for the Saints offense. Kamara's versatility and ability to run routes downfield is exactly what you want from your running back in the modern NFL, and Murray simply doesn't provide that. The Saints did bring in former Packers wide-receiver-turned-running-back Ty Montgomery this offseason, so we would expect him to fill that third-down role.
The Saints aren't done losing talent yet, either. Kamara's draft class included Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk and Marcus Williams, and they all await their paydays. Demario Davis is also an impending free agent and has been one of the best off-ball linebackers in the NFL since signing with the Saints.
The 2020 season may finally be the last stand for Drew Brees & Co. in New Orleans. And Taysom Hill better be a solid replacement; otherwise his two-year, $21 million extension will just end up costing the Saints talented players, all for naught.
Possible Landing Spots For Kamara
Looking beyond New Orleans, it is hard to come up with potential trade destinations for Kamara this late in the offseason. With less than two weeks until Week 1, and with it being clear that Kamara is not interested in playing without an extension, what teams will really be looking to pounce?
We've discussed at length in the past how the worst part of blockbuster trades is that teams are forced to give up draft capital and big money. It's one thing to sign a player to a huge contract, but giving up high draft picks and then signing a player to a huge contract is a big investment. We say it's a bad idea to trade for and then extend edge rushers and wide receivers, so that obviously goes tenfold for a running back, even one of Alvin Kamara's talent.
One team that stands out as a potential suitor is the Washington Football Team, who will be relying on octogenarian Adrian Peterson and third-round rookie Antonio Gibson out of the backfield. Washington's receiving weapons outside of Terry McLaurin are virtually nonexistent as well, so Washington is probably the team where Kamara could make the biggest impact.
We would assume the division-rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers are very interested, but we would also assume that the Saints would refuse to deal Kamara within the NFC South.
One final connection that could make sense is the Chicago Bears. Bears general manager Ryan Pace worked for the Saints for years, and Bears running back David Montgomery went down with a groin injury in practice last week that could leave him sidelined for a few weeks early in the season. The Bears don't have the draft capital or the money for this to be a smart move, but they haven't let that stop them before.
Fantasy Implications of a Possible Move
Uncertainty in drafting Kamara will linger up until some sort of conclusion is reached, meaning he'll be a risky pick in the top half of first rounds. Prioritizing the likes of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kenyan Drake, Derrick Henry and Joe Mixon ahead of Kamara and Dalvin Cook makes sense considering their respective situations. And yet, one certainty remains regardless of how the Kamara situation pans out: Draft Latavius Murray.
The Saints' No. 2 RB has been in the RB3-4 range throughout the offseason. Murray carries a relatively modest weekly role when Kamara is healthy; he had double-digit touches in just four of 15 games with Kamara healthy last season.
The real fantasy value from Murray comes from his status as one of the league's few proven three-down handcuffs. Kamara missed two games in 2019, and the Saints proceeded to feed Murray a true Christian McCaffrey-esque workload:
- Week 7: 27-119-2 rushing, 6-31-0 receiving, 84% snaps, PPR RB2
- Week 8: 21-102-1, 9-55-1, 82%, RB3
Once viewed as merely an early-down committee back, Murray caught 34 of 43 targets for 235 yards and a score during his first season with the Saints. True workhorse backs who spend more than four-fifths of their offense's snaps on the field are rare, and that's exactly what fantasy investors have in Murray.
Recent discussion on Fantasy Twitter surrounding the idea that drafting your RB's handcuff limits your team's upside makes sense; there's no way both Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison will each have an amazing 2020 season, so Cook investors are better off targeting other handcuffs to raise their best-case scenario ceiling. Still, there are seemingly only four locked-in handcuffs across the entire league:
Target these players ahead of lower-upside one-dimensional talents in fantasy formats of all shapes and sizes, particularly Murray as long as the Saints' backfield remains a state of chaos.