Many Buffalo Bills fans are resigned to the fact that the team will make some changes at running back this offseason. It seems as if C.J. Spiller is more likely than not to sign elsewhere in free agency, and some 2015 NFL Draft experts predict that the Bills will select a running back with the team's first selection May. While some are open to the idea of drafting a new back, others prefer the team sign one of the popular names on the free agent market.
A name that continuously pops up on Twitter, and in our own comment sections here, is 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. The former Alabama star hits the market at the end of his rookie contract, and could be a target for the Bills' run-oriented offense under Rex Ryan and Greg Roman. Let's break him down.
Ingram had his most productive NFL season in 2014, finishing with 964 rushing yards in 13 games. In addition to a career high in rushing, Ingram also set personal bests with 29 receptions and nine touchdowns in the New Orleans Saints' offense. When Ingram was at his most productive last season - rushing for 100 yards or more - the Saints posted a 3-1 record, with impressive victories against Green Bay, Carolina, and Pittsburgh.
In a contract year, Ingram started to display the consistency needed to be a featured back for the Saints. In the Week 8 win over Green Bay, he showed more than a glimpse of his potential, rushing for 172 yards on 24 carries. He then followed up this performance with 30 carries for 100 yards in the win against Carolina, and 27 carries for 122 yards in a Week 10 overtime loss to San Francisco.
While Ingram had his breakout campaign in 2014, many questioned why it took him so long to experience success in the NFL. When the Saints traded back into the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft to select him, expectations were sky high that he would finally serve as the feature back that had been missing from the club's high-powered offense.
One can argue that no running back has truly been a lead back since Drew Brees took over at quarterback in New Orleans, as Sean Payton has traditionally used multiple backs each season. That did not change in the four years that Ingram was with the Saints. Injuries have also plagued Ingram to this point in his career; he has missed 14 regular season games thus far, losing time to heel, toe, and hand injuries. These have taken a toll on Ingram's ability to develop consistency on a week-to-week basis.
Should the Bills look to pursue a running back in free agency, Ingram could be a fit, both financially and physically. The expectations for Ingram's next contract fall into the $3-5 million range - a reasonable forecast based on recent free agent contracts. Ingram is still only 25 years old, and has less than 600 carries in his NFL career. He now has an opportunity to join a run-oriented offense for the first time as a professional, which could make the Bills an attractive choice in free agency.