Fifth-year option refusal on Mark Ingram doesn’t mean Saints are unhappy with him

With hours to go before the team’s deadline to do so, the NFL Players Association website on Friday did not show that the Saints had exercised a fifth-year team option on the contract of running back Mark Ingram.

There also were no indications that would change before the deadline lapsed around midnight, seeming to set the stage for 2014 to be Ingram’s contract year.

The deals that Ingram and Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan signed as rookie first-round picks in 2011 with New Orleans were for four seasons but, under the collective bargaining agreement adopted that year, the team can exercise an option to keep the players under contract for a fifth campaign.

In late April, the Saints activated that option for Jordan, who recorded the fifth-most sacks (12.5) in the NFL last season and made his first Pro Bowl. Jordan — who is Ingram’s close friend and keeps his locker next to the running back’s at team headquarters in Metairie — was among more than 20 first-round picks from 2011 who had their fifth-year options exercised by Friday afternoon.

The same had not been true of Ingram. And reports from CBS Sports and ESPN that cited anonymous sources Monday and Tuesday said the Saints did not intend to exercise the option on Ingram’s deal.

Jordan’s base salary in 2015 will be about $6.79 million — $5.9 million more than it was in 2013 and $5.53 million more than it’s supposed to be in 2014.

Ingram’s option would cost them about $5.21 million — or about $4.16 million more than his base salary was in 2013 and $3.82 million more than it’s supposed to be in 2014.

None of that should be taken as a sign that the Saints are unhappy with Ingram, who closed his third year in New Orleans relatively strongly.

After rushing for just 31 yards on 17 carries during the first two weeks of the 2013 regular season, Ingram sat out the next five games with a toe injury. He returned for the last nine games of the regular season, averaging an excellent 5.8 yards a carry to pick up 355 yards and a touchdown on 61 rushes.

Ingram then tallied 146 yards on 28 carries (5.2 yards per attempt) and another touchdown in two playoff games before the Saints were eliminated.

His regular-season yards were greatly boosted with a career-best 145-yard outing in a 49-17 win over Dallas at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, in which he gained 130 of those yards after New Orleans seized an 18-point first-half lead. He also racked up 97 of his playoff yards in a 26-24 wildcard-round victory at Philadelphia — the first postseason road win in Saints history — before losing a fumble at Seattle in the following week’s season-ending loss.

Ingram in the process distinguished himself by breaking 15 tackles on his runs and on seven receptions, statistics website Football Outsiders reported Friday. That amounted to a broken tackle on 17.6 percent of his touches, second in the NFL only to Arizona’s Andre Ellington (17.8) and higher than Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (17.5).

There’s nothing barring the Saints from working out a long-term deal to retain Ingram when his contract expires at the end of the 2014 league year, presumably for cheaper than what the option was calling for in 2015.

Ingram, who won a Heisman Trophy and a BCS title at Alabama, told reporters in April that he wasn’t worried about whether the Saints would exercise the fifth-year option on his contract.

“I’m glad to be on a team that’s a championship contender,” he said.

Aside from Ingram, the Saints at the moment have Pierre Thomas, Travaris Cadet and Khiry Robinson at running back.

Thomas has been with the Saints and in the NFL since 2007; Cadet is headed into his third year in the league and with the team; and Robinson was a rookie last season. Those three all entered the NFL as undrafted free agents.

In anticipation of next week’s draft, the Saints attended pro days where running back prospects such as LSU’s Jeremy Hill and Towson’s Terrance West were present. Both may be available in the third round.

They reportedly hosted Sam Houston State’s Timothy Flanders, who could be up for grabs in undrafted free agency.

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Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter @RVargasAdvocate. For more coverage of Saints football, follow our Black and Gold blog at blogs.theadvocate.com/blackandgold/

Update, Saturday at 11:44 a.m.: The NFLPA site showed no fifth year on Ingram’s contract on Saturday after the deadline, and ESPN quoted a source that said the Saints’ had indeed not exercised the option on the running back’s playing deal.