METAIRIE, La. — Alvin Kamara will be back at practice with the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday, and the two sides will continue working toward a long-term contract extension, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
According to the source, the two sides are not that far apart on a deal (Kamara is not seeking to match fellow running back Christian McCaffrey‘s $16 million per year). Things appear to have calmed down after a rift in the negotiations.
Kamara, who is heading into the final year of his rookie deal, was absent from practices and team activities for at least four days starting Friday. Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the absences were unexcused and believed to be contract-related. However, a source told Fowler that Kamara has also been receiving treatment for a minor back issue.
The source confirmed to Fowler that the Saints were open to the possibility of trading Kamara for a first-round draft choice in light of his absence, as NFL reporter Josina Anderson reported. According to the source, four teams inquired about Kamara on Tuesday.
However, this is not a case in which the Saints are eager to part ways with the three-time Pro Bowler. They are willing to make a long-term commitment to Kamara, despite their salary-cap limitations, because of the value he brings as both a runner and a receiver.
Kamara, who was drafted in the third round out of Tennessee in 2017 before breaking out as the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, is scheduled to make $2.133 million this season.
An extension would almost certainly fall somewhere between the $12 million per year that Joe Mixon received from the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday and McCaffrey’s $16 million per year. That leaves a wide range for negotiations.
The Saints had a scheduled day off Tuesday, with their next practice scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
Kamara reported for the start of training camp and participated for the first several weeks, insisting at the time that he was not focused on his contract. It’s unclear what changed. But the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement makes it harder for Kamara to threaten an extended holdout.
According to the CBA, a player under contract would lose an accrued season if he fails to report to training camp on the mandatory reporting date or if “the player thereafter failed to perform his contract services for the club for a material period of time.” That would make Kamara a restricted free agent next year instead of unrestricted.
The Saints could also fine Kamara up to $40,000 per day, though those fines are not mandatory because Kamara is still on his rookie contract.
Kamara, 25, recorded 728 rushing yards, 826 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns as a rookie. His numbers in 2018 were 883 rushing yards, 709 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns.
He was hampered last season by knee and ankle injuries that forced him to miss two games and play “on one leg” for the final three months. He finished with 797 rushing yards, a career-low 533 receiving yards and a career-low six touchdowns.
Kamara says he is healthy now, and coaches have praised him for looking like his old self early in camp.
The Saints have about $7.5 million in salary-cap space this year, but they will be facing some daunting limitations next year if the leaguewide cap drops significantly because of lost revenues in 2020.
The NFL’s 2021 cap could drop to as low as $175 million per team, down from $198.2 million per team in 2020.
The Saints rank second in the NFL with $246.6 million in salary-cap commitments for 2021, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Plus, Saints starters such as cornerback Marshon Lattimore, offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk and linebacker Demario Davis are nearing the end of their contracts.