Alvin Kamara endured a testy Tuesday with the Saints and ultimately he and his camp appeared to retreat from whatever trench they were dug into. But while it's seemingly good news that cooler heads have prevailed and Karama and the Saints are peacefully engaged in extension talks again, the All-Pro running back made a mistake folding his winning hand. Unfortunately, there's no going back now.
There are various reports floating around about what happened between Kamara and the Saints. The prevailing one is that Kamara is seeking a contract extension similar to Christian McCaffrey's deal he signed this offseason ($16 million average, $30 million guaranteed). Kamara sat out practices this week to show the Saints he meant business. The Saints apparently don't want to pay him that amount and put some trade feelers out there to gauge value for Kamara on the open market. That threat seemingly was enough to get Kamara and his agent back to the negotiating table and for the Saints to pull him off the trade block.
For a running back like Kamara with only one opportunity to get a massive payday and leverage on his side for perhaps the only time in his career, retreating was a mistake.
With Drew Brees, 41, having one or two more years left at most in the NFL, and following three straight heartbreaking, premature exits in the NFL playoffs, the Saints are in desperation win-now mode. They know their window with this group is closing fast and soon enough they'll have to retool their offense to fit the new quarterback they draft or sign.
For now, they've built their offense around Brees' strengths (quick, accurate throws) and Kamara is the piston that drives the whole thing. In games where he touched the ball more than 20 times in 2019, the Saints averaged 34.5 points per game and the team went 6-0. In games where he didn't, they averaged 26.3 points per game and went 6-4. In three years, he's racked up over 2,400 yards rushing and 2,000 yards receiving and scored 37 touchdowns.
Beyond the stats, with the season a week away, he's the only running back in the league prepared and skilled enough to be the lead back in New Orleans.
That combination of production, importance to team success and a team's desire to win now creates the kind of negotiating leverage that doesn't come along often. It comes along even less regularly for a running back. If Kamara wanted to be paid in the same realm as McCaffrey, holding out until he got the bag was his best way of forcing the Saints' hand. And from my perspective, the Saints had a losing hand here.
Their threat of a trade was a total bluff. No way they were actually going to trade him this close to a season with Super Bowl hopes attached. Not with everything he does for their offense as a running back and pass catcher. He's too valuable and no free agent running back, including Leonard Fournette, compares to Kamara.
There's also no way Kamara can turn back now and hold out again. The optics of that would be terrible from a PR standpoint and a teammate standpoint. Now that he's back, he's back and he has to make the best of it.
The good news is, with Kamara's agent and the Saints re-engaged at the negotiating table, an extension seems likely. Will it be as high as McCaffrey? Will it be what Kamara originally wanted? We'll never know. But I do think he folded a winning hand and now he has to hope he gets dealt another one.