By Casey Gisglair
Sports media types like myself love to talk about bulletin board material and all of the little intricacies that can potentially motivate, inspire, and boost a professional athlete’s ability to compete within his/her playing field.
Honestly, most of it is hogwash and irrelevant – the lion’s share of the conversations we discuss are about topics that the athletes actually know very little about because of the vacuum-like world they have been trained to live in.
Trust me – these guys/gals don’t read newspapers, very rarely listen to talk radio, and don’t spend much time on reading the smut that’s out there on the Internet.
But there is a universal motivator that inspires athletes, both young and old. It’s the thing that rules everything in our world – for better or worse.
It’s all about the money.
Such is the case for New Orleans Saints’ halfback Mark Ingram – a talented, physical runner who is coming into his own during his much-anticipated contract season with the team.
Let’s be honest – Ingram’s professional career to this point has been a bit of a disappointment. Once a Heisman Trophy winner, the Saints traded up in the 2011 NFL Draft to snag Ingram in hopes of him becoming the powerful, versatile back they needed to win the tough, hard-fought cold weather games that have plagued the team in the past.
That sentiment isn’t Alabama hatred from an LSU grad – it’s just realism. In the first three seasons of Ingram’s pro career, the back posted 1,462 combined rushing yards with just 11 touchdowns. Those same three-year numbers are posted routinely in just one season by the best backs in the NFL.
Sure, a lot of it has to do with the fact that the Saints share reps in a crowded backfield, but even in spite of that, Ingram just couldn’t stay healthy. He also wasn’t overly productive when he was healthy, and the Saints’ patience in making the whole marriage work was wearing thin.
That last statement was made apparent when New Orleans declined the final season of Ingram’s contract this past offseason – a move that will make Ingram an unrestricted free agent in the offseason (barring the franchise tag being levied onto him).
Now running for his next contract, Ingram is a different back – an elite back, in fact, with 431 and six touchdowns on the young season, despite only playing five games with an injury. He’s evolved and become a guy that the Saints can’t live without. He’s a player the team needs to feed 20-25 times a game for the rest of the season.
I’ve never been a big fan of a “committee” approach at tailback. The importance of depth at a contact-filled position is important, I get that, but I believe that running back is a place where players get better with the more touches they get in a game.
Ingram is the same way. He gets stronger the longer the game goes. Just look at the past two wins. In those victories, Ingram has compiled 272 yards on 54 carries with three scores.
When you have one of those physical workhorse backs, it becomes easier to control the pace and tempo of a game. Carries 20-25 will almost always be better than carries 15-19, and the opposing defense will continually be on its toes to keep its composure.
Ingram is in the peak condition of his career, and he’s running for cash – the biggest motivator in the adult world.
There is absolutely no reason for New Orleans to not feed him and keep the chains moving.
Sure, doing so will make Ingram’s price tag at the end of the season skyrocket to a level that New Orleans may not be able to afford. But in the NFL, the culture and formula is all about winning now.
So feed Ingram, enjoy the success and let him get his money. It’s a formula that was good enough to beat Green Bay and Carolina in a span of 4 days. It’s a formula that just might be the recipe that this team needs to win on the road in the postseason – something the team only has done once in its existence.
Oh yeah, in that game, Ingram had nearly 100 yards, too.
Coincidence? I think not.
Feed him the rock!