The Saints are set to have a new backup running back. They are releasing Latavius Murray, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets, adding that the veteran refused a pay cut Monday.
While this strips the Saints of another proven weapon, it will give other teams in need at running back an interesting option ahead of Week 1. Murray spent the past two seasons working as Alvin Kamara‘s backup. He saw extensive time during that stretch, surpassing 600 rushing yards in each season.
Murray agreed to a four-year, $14.4MM deal with New Orleans in 2019, coming over from Minnesota to replace Mark Ingram as Kamara’s between-the-tackles sidekick. The team’s pay-cut request certainly came at a late juncture; Murray, 31, was set to make $2.95MM in base salary this season.
Missing just one game during his two-year Saints stay, Murray totaled 1,293 rushing yards with the team. He scored 11 touchdowns as a Saint, filling in for an injured Kamara for short stretches in both seasons, and provided a smooth transition from Ingram. The Saints have fourth-year back Dwayne Washington and second-year UDFA Tony Jones Jr. as their active-roster backs behind Kamara. The latter appears the better bet to take over as Kamara’s primary backup. A Notre Dame product, Jones has three career carries but impressed this summer.
The Saints are facing discipline from the league office for violating COVID-19 safety policies, according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport. This marks the third such violation for Sean Payton & Co., so the punishment is likely to be even larger.
Between the two previous penalties, the Saints have already been docked $750K plus the forfeiture of a seventh-round pick. First, there was the lack of mask-wearing in Week 2. Then, the Saints were seen celebrating sans face coverings again in Week 9. The latest flag stems from a late-season incident in which running back Alvin Kamara came in contact with a COVID-19 positive person at the team facility. That person was not employed by the Saints, even though non-team personnel have been barred from entering this season.
When Kamara contracted the coronavirus, the timing couldn’t have been worse. In Week 16 against the Vikings, he registered six touchdowns on the ground, matching a 91-year-old record. Forced out of the season finale, Kamara still finished the year with an NFL-high 21 TDs. Meanwhile, several other Saints RBs were forced out of Week 17, putting increased attention on the Saints and their protocols.
Interestingly, Kamara himself was not an innocent party in this. According to Jeff Duncan of The Athletic, Kamara’s refusal to wear a contract-tracing device was a problem all season, so the club had no way to trace his close contacts after he tested positive (Twitter link). The league’s investigation into the latest alleged violation could presumably lead to discipline for Kamara as well as the Saints.
The Saints project to have four, or possibly five, selections in the 2021 draft. Currently, they have only their first-, second-, and fourth-round picks. However, they are slated receive a pair of third-round compensatory picks for hiring Terry Fontenot and losing Teddy Bridgewater. In the coming days, the Saints could wind up losing more from their stockpile, though as Mike Triplett of ESPN.com tweets, they are confident that Kamara did not contract COVID-19 from contact with anyone inside the team facility (though that might not really matter, as the mere presence of non-team personnel is a protocol violation).
Triplett goes on to say that New Orleans has not yet been notified of any further discipline, and that the club would appeal any such discipline if the NFL imposes it (Twitter link).
Thomas missed the Saints final three regular-season games, going on IR before Week 15 because of a troublesome ankle injury. Kamara is back after contracting COVID-19 last week. The All-Pro running back will end up missing just one game.
The Saints shut down Thomas in hopes he could recover from an injury that has bothered him for months. Thomas suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 1, costing him early-season time. That began a complicated season for the perennial Pro Bowler. The Saints handed Thomas a one-game suspension for striking a teammate and then saw him run into a hamstring injury in practice. Altogether, the fifth-year standout missed nine games this season.
Entering 2020, Thomas had missed just two contests. He finished the regular season with with just 40 catches for 438 yards and no touchdowns but will have a chance to end the season on a more positive note.
Kamara contracted the coronavirus shortly after his record-tying Christmas Day performance. Despite not playing in Week 17, the fourth-year running back finished the season with a league-high 21 touchdowns — six of which coming against the Vikings in Kamara’s most recent outing.
New Orleans has been without key cogs throughout the season, losing Brees and Emmanuel Sanders at points as well. Ahead of what could be Brees’ final postseason run, the Saints will have their top guns in uniform.
A week after his record-tying Christmas Day performance, Alvin Kamara faces the prospect of missing the Saints’ playoff opener.
The star running back tested positive for COVID-19 Friday, according to Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.football (on Twitter). Kamara took another test, and it came back positive, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Kamara did not practice Friday.
Kamara is not symptomatic, according to Underhill (on Twitter). The Saints went to the playoffs in each of Kamara’s first three seasons; he did not miss any of those games. The former third-round pick has only missed three regular-season games in his career.
Should Kamara remain asymptomatic, he will be cleared to play in New Orleans’ first playoff game — should that game occur on Sunday, Jan. 10, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. The NFL has a new playoff schedule this year; three wild-card games will occur on Saturday and Sunday. Should the league slot the Saints as a Sunday team — if, in fact, they do not obtain the No. 1 seed — Kamara has a chance to play.
The Saints have a chance at home-field advantage in the NFC, which becomes more important now. The Saints have won one road playoff game in franchise history, but securing the bye now would limit the chances Kamara misses a postseason game. A three-way tie atop the conference between the Saints, Packers and Seahawks would give New Orleans its second No. 1 seed in three seasons. This would mean a Green Bay loss and a Seattle win Sunday, in addition to New Orleans defeating Carolina. However, the Packers are favored to beat the Bears this week and clinch the top spot.
Kamara rushed for six touchdowns in Week 16, tying Ernie Nevers‘ 91-year-old record, and leads the NFL with 21 total TDs. He battled ankle trouble in 2019 but missed just two games. He has played all 15 of the Saints’ contests this year and established a new career high with 1,688 scrimmage yards. The Saints earning the No. 2 seed — which they would if the current spots hold — would mean a matchup with the Rams, Cardinals or Bears in Round 1. As it stands, Latavius Murray (656 rushing yards; five total TDs) would start in that game.
The Saints, however, have navigated this season without key players at multiple junctures. Michael Thomas remains on IR and has missed much of the season due to ailments and a suspension. Drew Brees missed four games because of cracked ribs and a punctured lung but has since returned. This Kamara situation will be more of the same for New Orleans, which endured a first-round upset with Kamara, Brees and a healthy Thomas last season.
Another running back is inking a sizable extension. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that running back Alvin Kamara has signed a five-year extension with the Saints. The deal is worth $75MM in new money ($77.133MM overall), including a $15MM signing bonus. Rapoport adds that Kamara will earn$34.333MM in guaranteed money.
It’s been a tumultuous few weeks for the two sides. At one point, Kamara was skipping practices, and subsequent reports indicated that the Saints would consider moving the Pro Bowler in a trade (in exchange for a first-rounder, of course). Then, earlier this week, we learned that an extension was “extremely close,” an indication that the two sides apparently made up.
Since 2017, Kamara has registered an eye-popping 4,476 yards from scrimmage, teaming up with Drew Brees and Michael Thomas to form one of the best offensive trios in the NFL. The former third-round pick has earned three Pro Bowl nods, second-team All-Pro recognition, and a number of rookie accolades.
September 8th, 2020 at 9:55am CST by Zachary Links
The Saints and Alvin Kamara are “extremely close” to finalizing an extension, sources tell Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The deal could potentially get done today, since the players have off and Kamara would have time to review the proposed terms.
The sides have made progress in recent weeks, though there’s also been trade speculation surrounding the star running back. Just days ago, the Saints were said to be open to moving Kamara, though they would ask for a first-round pick in return. At one point, Kamara was skipping practices, but the two sides now seem to be on the same page.
Kamara’s deal is expected to land somewhere between Joe Mixon‘s $12MM-per-year pact and Christian McCaffrey‘s record-setting $16MM-AAV deal. Odds are, it’ll be closer to CMC than Mixon. Since 2017, Kamara has registered an eye-popping 4,476 yards from scrimmage, and the Saints don’t want to lose that offensive firepower.
For now, Kamara has one year to go on his rookie deal. The former third-round pick is set to earn just $2.13MM in base salary in 2020.
September 2nd, 2020 at 12:54pm CST by Zachary Links
Saints running back Alvin Kamara met with head coach Sean Payton on Wednesday to clear the air, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Kamara is expected to practice with the team this afternoon as his camp continues extension talks with the front office.
Kamara isn’t seeking Christian McCaffreycoin, but he wants something better than the Saints’ most recent offer of $50MM over four years. That deal would put him in line with Titans star Derrick Henry, but Kamara is aiming higher.
The Saints don’t consider Kamara to be untouchable, but they’d reportedly want a first-round pick in exchange for him. For now, it seems like the two parties are on okay terms, but it’s definitely something to file away. Even if the Saints don’t move Kamara between now and the season opener, they could explore trades all the way until late October.
Kamara’s salary demand isn’t quite clear, but he’s probably seeking something that puts him in between McCaffrey and Joe Mixon‘s recent extension.
Only four players have outgained Kamara from scrimmage over the past three seasons, and Kamara’s 6.1 yards per touch betters the three running backs ahead of him. But, in the interest of equal time, Kamara’s per-catch average has also slipped in each of the last three seasons. After averaging 10.2 yards per grab as a rookie and 8.8 yards per catch in 2018, Kamara posted just 6.6 yards per reception in 2019.
Alvin Kamara and the Saints remain in negotiations on an extension that would keep him in New Orleans long-term. While a trade rumor surfaced Tuesday, this situation does not appear to be contentious.
The three-time Pro Bowl back has not asked the Saints to pay him more than Christian McCaffrey, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com reports (video link). McCaffrey signed a four-year, $64MM deal earlier this year.
However, the Kamara-Saints talks may have run into some hurdles. The Saints and Kamara were believed to be making progress, but Pelissero adds the talks “went a little bit sideways” recently. The Saints have proposed Kamara a four-year, $50MM deal, Jeff Duncan of The Athletic reports (subscription required). Those were the numbers that convinced Derrick Henry to sign a Titans extension in July. Kamara is set to make $2.1MM in base salary this season.
The team would prefer to keep its three-down weapon long-term but has broached the subject of a trade. New Orleans is not shopping Kamara, but if the team were to get serious on a trade, a first-round pick is the price. The Saints received a first-rounder for Brandin Cooks three years ago and collected a first-rounder and Max Unger for Jimmy Graham in 2015. The Saints have also traded both high-profile players who previously played Kamara’s role in Sean Payton‘s offense — Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles — though Kamara has outperformed both as a running back. New Orleans received little in compensation in the Bush or Sproles swaps.
Contract matters have not been entirely at the root of Kamara’s practice absences. A back injury has sidelined him, per Pelissero, who adds Kamara intends to return to practice Wednesday. He received an epidural injection recently. Kamara missed time due to ankle and knee problems last season.
McCaffrey, Henry and Joe Mixon agreed to new deals this year, helping stabilize a running back market reeling from the disappointments the Todd Gurley, David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell deals brought. Any Kamara talks will surely involve a contract north of Mixon’s $12MM-per-year deal. With Kamara averaging more yards per touch than McCaffrey over the course of his career, and making three Pro Bowls to McCaffrey’s one, the Saints back has a case to land a contract near the Panthers star’s territory. Such demands would put the Saints to a decision, but Kamara’s importance to this season’s Super Bowl-contending roster would seemingly increase his leverage in these talks.
New Orleans has relied on Kamara over the past three seasons, but the team may not be committed to paying him top-tier running back money. The Saints are open to trading Kamara, veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson tweets. One season remains on Kamara’s third-round rookie deal.
However, neither Kamara nor his agent are requesting a trade, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Both thought they were progressing on an extension, Rapoport adds, noting that while Kamara has missed practices, he has been in the building each day.
The Saints would prefer to sign Kamara to an extension, per The Athletic’s Jeff Duncan, but if they cannot do so at the right price, a trade is on the table (Twitter link). If this process gets to that point, Duncan adds the Saints want a first-round pick for Kamara.
Multiple members of the 2017 running back class have now secured extensions, with Joe Mixon‘s $12MM-per-year pact following Christian McCaffrey‘s record-setting $16MM-AAV deal. Kamara’s deal would likely come in between those two values, though the three-down Saints back is surely pushing for a contract at or near the rate McCaffrey received. Given the risk extending running backs at high-end rates comes with, the Saints are keeping their options open.
While Kamara joins draft classmates Aaron Jones and Dalvin Cook in uncertain territory regarding his financial future, he is a vital piece of the Saints’ offense. Only four players have outgained Kamara from scrimmage over the past three seasons, and Kamara’s 6.1 yards per touch betters the three running backs ahead of him. The Saints again have Super Bowl aspirations, with the team loading up its roster this offseason — ahead of Drew Brees‘ age-41 season. Kamara serves as a seemingly essential piece of this championship-contending puzzle.
The Saints have not been too shy about landing value for key offensive starters, having dealt Kenny Stills and, more notably, Brandin Cooks in recent years. Tuesday’s report certainly injects more intrigue into the Kamara situation, one that will bear monitoring through Saints and running back lenses.
Alvin Kamara has not been present for the last three days of Saints training camp and his absence is unexcused (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). This absence is believed to be contract-related, Schefter reports.
The Saints have been discussing a new deal with Kamara throughout the summer, though it’s not clear if they’ve made him a concrete offer just yet. The final year of Kamara’s third-round rookie contract calls for a $2.13MM base salary.
Kamara said earlier this year that he wants to stay with the Saints, though he is equally eager for a pay bump after watching Panthers star Christian McCaffreyset a new all-time record for the position. While Kamara probably will not top McCaffrey’s $16MM-AAV deal and may not get to the Ezekiel Elliott price point ($15MM/ year), the Saints will have to make him one of the league’s highest-paid backs to keep him for the long haul.
Kamara and Mark Ingram became the first running back duo to each surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage in a season in 2017, and Kamara eclipsed 1,500 scrimmage yards again in 2018 — when he scored 18 touchdowns. Since 2017, Kamara’s 4,476 scrimmage yards rank fifth in the NFL.