NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Four seasons after the Saints traded to get back into the first round of the draft to select Mark Ingram, the running back could be playing in his final game with New Orleans on Sunday.
He's not the only one.
With the Saints missing the playoffs for only the fourth time in nine seasons, New Orleans' offense could see a roster shakeup in the offseason.
The Saints' league-leading offense is built in part on several veterans who carry big contracts or are about to become free agents.
Ingram, receiver Robert Meachem and center Jonathan Goodwin all are free to sign elsewhere after this season.
Receiver Marques Colston and guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans have big salary cap numbers.
The realignment of the offense could start in the backfield, however.
The Saints declined to pick up a fifth-year contract option on Ingram this summer.
Yet, he's having his best year as a pro. He has put up career highs with 212 rushes, 907 yards and eight touchdowns. He ran for at least 100 yards in three straight games in Weeks 8-10. And he carried the ball at least 23 times in four straight games in Weeks 8-11.
"I said this earlier in the year when all of a sudden you started seeing the week-in, week-out production," Saints coach Sean Payton said.
"I'm so happy to see that from here because a year ago he labored with an injury and still played. The first thing I think of is toughness. He's a good football player. I'm glad he's with us."
Whether or not he's with the Saints next season, Ingram said showing that he can be relied upon consistently was important.
"I think that's a good thing, just seeing that I can carry the ball and that I can be out there doing whatever you ask me to do for a stretch of time and be healthy," Ingram said.
Meachem and Goodwin both signed one-year contracts before the season.
Meachem hasn't been used much this season and was inactive for six of the past eight games. His six receptions this year are half of his previous career-low season total.
Goodwin has played through various injuries for much of the season and is part of a line that hasn't held up for quarterback Drew Brees, who has been sacked four times in two games and five times once.
Colston, Evans and Grubbs all have contracts through 2016 that carry base salaries of at least $6.5 million and bigger salary cap hits.
For that trio, it could come down to taking a pay cut to remain in New Orleans.
Colston is New Orleans' career leading receiver in receptions (664), yards (9,188) and touchdowns (67). Evans has been one of the NFL's best guards and has been to six straight Pro Bowls. Both players were taken by New Orleans in the 2006 draft, the first of the Payton era.
While Payton said the Saints won't specifically go to a youth movement against Tampa Bay in the season finale, younger players have seen more playing time.
Receiver Nick Toon, a fourth-round selection by New Orleans in 2012, is among those young players finally getting on the field. He has been active in the past five games, catching 16 passes for 191 yards and his first career touchdown.
"Everybody wants to play," Toon said. "Everybody wants to contribute. And getting an opportunity to do those things has been awesome."
Brandin Cooks, the Saints' first-round pick in 2014, was a featured player until he went on season-ending injured reserve with a right thumb injury.
And Kenny Stills, a fifth-round pick in 2013, has seen a more prominent role in the offense.
"We've been able to utilize him more at some different positions and he's shown he can handle that mentally," Brees said. "He's really versatile in a lot of ways."
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Posted on Fri, December 26, 2014
by BRADLEY HANDWERGER, Associated Press