Will Alvin Kamara and the Saints resolve contract concerns?

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NEW ORLEANS, La. -- The New Orleans Saints are at a crossroads with running back Alvin Kamara.

Kamara's status moving forward is unknown after he skipped the final practice of minicamp last week.

Kamara's agent Brad Cicala told the NFL Network that the early departure was contract-related.

"I haven't had a chance to talk to him so I'm not sure why he wasn't out here for the rest of practice," coach Dennis Allen said.

Kamara did not go to OTAs this offseason before returning for mandatory minicamp, which has been his routine for a few years. Kamara said last year that he wants to be in New Orleans long-term.

"I want a lifetime contract. I want to be here forever," Kamara said in training camp last year. "I love it here."

Kamara has been speculated to be one of the focal points of the 2024 offense in new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak's system. He has thrived in previous Saints offenses, catching at least 80 passes in each of his first four seasons and scoring double-digit touchdowns in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

"You look at the history of this offense, I'll just say it's good for the running back," Kamara said.

Kubiak was the San Francisco 49ers passing game coordinator last season, and running back Christian McCaffrey thrived, rushing for a career-high 1,459 yards.

"You watch some of the past offenses that Klint has been able to operate and most recent, you look [at] last year, you look at Christian and what he was able to do. I'm excited for that," Kamara said.

The 28-year-old McCaffrey, who was a first-round pick for the Carolina Panthers in 2017, received a two-year extension in June that will pay him an average of $19 million and guarantee him $24 million.

"I'm not a stat dude. I don't stack myself up against other guys. You talk about Christian and all, me and Christian talk. I enjoy watching him play," Kamara said. "I enjoy when he's able to do the things he does. Personally, I enjoy when I'm having success. But I think my message has been the same since I've been here ... whatever's asked of me, I just do that."

This impasse, however, comes after one of the worst statistical seasons of Kamara's career.

His 1,160 total yards from scrimmage and 694 rushing yards were career lows. His five rushing touchdowns and 466 receiving yards-per-game were up from the 2022 season.

Kamara turns 29 on July 25. He is one year older than McCaffrey, who has been an outlier in average running back trends.

According to Roster Management System, running backs with at least four seasons of 100 rushing attempts peak at age 27 and steadily decline in yards after that age. Rushing attempts also peak at age 27 and rushing average peaks between 24-26.

There were some outside factors involved in Kamara's statistical decline. He was suspended the first three games of the 2023 season for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

The Saints also had offensive line issues that did not get resolved for the first month of the season and had trouble scoring in the red zone for the first half of the season.

Carr said he noticed Kamara's rare ability last year and he's seen that same ability during offseason practices as well.

"There was a play last year where I handed him the ball," Carr said, "and I remember I was like 'Well that's not open.' ... I turned around and he hit an explosive burst that I've never seen before. And when he showed up (at minicamp), I handed him the ball, and it just feels different."

Kamara's cap number of $18.55 million in 2024 is the highest on the team due to previous restructures in 2022 and 2023.

A restructure would not have gotten Kamara any new money on his deal, but it would have temporarily opened up space in the short term for accounting purposes by taking a portion of his base salary and turning it into a signing bonus, lowering his salary cap number for the current year but raising it in future years.

If the Saints chose to release Kamara in 2025 without touching his contract, they would save anywhere from $18.9-$25 million against the salary cap. However, that number is skewed to Kamara's inflated $22.4 million base salary for 2025 that likely would be addressed if Kamara is on the team in 2025.

The Saints have about a month before they report to training camp in Irvine, California. Kamara missed five practices at the end of the 2020 offseason prior to receiving a new contract. He is currently signed through the 2025 season.

"I have talked to him when he was here the last couple of days," Kubiak said. "He's been great, talked to him on the phone, even when he was gone (for OTAS). We've been in constant communication."