With all of the different directions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face in 2019 free agency, one area that hasn’t been discussed much is the running back position.
The Bucs have four running backs on the roster heading into 2019: Ronald Jones II, Shaun Wilson, Dare Ogunbowale, and the recently signed Andre Ellington.
While restricted free agent Peyton Barber should return to the team in 2019, there are still a lot of question marks at this spot. Outside of Barber and Ellington, there hasn’t been much production with the other players.
Which leads us to free agent running back Mark Ingram. After spending his entire career with the New Orleans Saints, there is no guarantee that he will be back on their roster this coming season.
Could the Bucs land Ingram in free agency?
MARK INGRAM’S CAREER
Ingram was drafted with the 28th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. The former Heisman winner didn’t really set the world on fire during his first few years. His first three years in the league saw him carry the ball 356 times for 1,462 yards (4.1 ypc) and 11 touchdowns. He didn’t do much work in the passing game either, totaling just 24 catches for 143 yards and no touchdowns.
Since 2014, however, it’s sufficient to say that Ingram found his groove. He’s carried the ball 965 times for 4,545 yards (4.7 ypc) and 39 touchdowns and tallied 204 receptions for 1,455 yards and five touchdowns.
Those numbers are good enough for the fifth-most rushing yards and second-most touchdowns amongst all running backs over the last five seasons. His reception numbers also have him in the upper-half of the league during that span.
Ingram has become a key cog to the Saints’ offense, even with the emergence of Alvin Kamara over the past two years. He provides a tough, durable, between-the-tackles runner that is also very capable of pass protection and receiving out of the backfield.
He posted career numbers in 2017, but a four-game suspension for using a banned substance halted his 2018 season. He was still able to produce, but it wasn’t anywhere close to the season before in terms of numbers.
Ingram received a four-year/$16 million extension from the Saints in 2015 and posted career numbers across the board in 2017. Now, at 29 years old, Ingram is looking for another payday.
And he feels like he can still play at a high level. It will be interesting to see how the rest of his career plays out for the eight-year veteran.
WHY THE BUCCANEERS NEED HIM
The Bucs don’t necessarily need him, per se. The team has Ronald Jones II - even though he had a terrible rookie season - and Barber should be back next season.
But adding a proven vet like Ingram would not only help consolidate the position, but he could also help provide a potentially lethal three-headed monster of himself, Barber, and Jones II.
Tampa Bay has never really had a dependable running game outside of Jameis Winston’s rookie season and that was all the way back in 2015. We all know how much a good running game can help out a quarterback.
It’s hard to deny the thought that Ingram would come in and instantly upgrade the running back position.
WHAT WILL INGRAM COST?
Ingram’s cap hit of $5.3 million is actually very affordable, but the question - as with any free agent - is will he want more this time around?
We all know how running backs are basically put out to pasture after the age of 30 and Ingram turns 30 in December. How much would a team be willing to pay for an older back coming off a suspension?
Another factor to consider is the dwindling market for the position. Each year, the “running backs don’t matter” battle cry becomes louder and fiercer as teams look to find impactful players on the cheap.
There are several teams that need a running back that have loads of cap space as well. You’re always going to overpay in free agency, so it’s likely Ingram will find a suitor that is beneficial in regards to his financial wants and needs.
WILL IT HAPPEN?
Ehhhhhh, there’s a chance, but it’s not likely.
Even though there is a lot of uncertainty in regards to Ingram’s future with the Saints, it seems very likely that he will re-sign with them.
If there is any interest from the Bucs’ side, then it seems like adding Ingram would cancel out re-signing Barber. That’s obviously speculation, but when you think about how much money will be tied up if both Barber and Ingram were to come on board, it makes sense.
Jones II is currently on the hook for a $1.6 million cap hit in 2019. Barber is projected to sign for around $2-$3 million. If Ingram were to sign close to his projected $4.4 million, then that would be close to $9 million invested in the running back position and that doesn’t include Ellington’s, Wilson’s, or Ogunbowale’s potential cap hits.
Only four teams in the league are investing over $10 million for the 2019 season at the moment. That is a lot of money that could be used elsewhere.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t look like Ingram will be calling Tampa Bay home, but never say never.