By Martin Rogers
The slightly peculiar Alvin Kamara saga looked to be heading closer to a conclusion on Wednesday, with the New Orleans Saints running back returning to practice and seemingly moving closer to a lucrative new contract.
And so, after a frenetic few days marked with speculation and conjecture, Drew Brees could breathe a sigh of relief. Kind of.
The legacy of great players is first and foremost created by their own excellence, their creativity and inner steel and ability to perform to their peak when it matters the most.
Yet football is so layered and intricate, the piecing together of a successful squad so nuanced and with so many moving parts, that simply being great isn’t always good enough.
With Brees heading into what could be the final year of his career, losing one of his two favored weapons to a trade at this late stage of preseason may have been a blow that could not have been overcome. The Saints are looking for one final charge with the 41-year-old under center.
He likely won’t feel fully at ease until a contract is inked. Kamara is in the final year of his rookie contract and is seeking something that at least gets in the vicinity of the $16 million per year given to Carolina Panthers ace Christian McCaffrey, who set the bar with a bumper deal in April.
According to multiple reports, Kamara sat out at least four days of team practices and activities, absences that were unexcused, while claims that the team were willing to trade him swirled.
In a summer where the last few weeks of camp have been rather muted in terms of newsworthiness, it is easy to see why the Kamara situation got everyone flustered.
"This is a big deal," former NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall said on First Things First. "Everything runs through (Kamara and Michael Thomas). This duo makes up for almost half of this team’s scrimmage yardage. Come on, you’ve got to get this guy signed."
Look at what Drew Brees does. This is how easy the offense is for them. He literally drops back, he looks at (Thomas) and then drops down to (Kamara). If Kamara is not there then this is very disturbing for not only Drew Brees but for this entire organization because everything runs through them. If he is not there that disrupts his whole process and now he has to develop a new process and a new procedure."
Kamara had 1,330 all-purpose yards along with six touchdowns last season while being named to his third Pro Bowl. He quickly struck up a rapport with Brees after being drafted in the third round in 2017, and while Thomas’ electrifying play at wide receiver generates more attention, Brees knows the value of his top two targets better than anyone.
"Alvin Kamara’s true value is when he lines up in the slot or out wide," FOX Sports’ Michael Vick added. "He is one of the guys who carried this team last year when Brees when down. This guy has been a focal point of the offense for the last three years. Take him away and the defense can game plan for Thomas and Drew (more easily)."
The contract scenario started picking up steam earlier this month and then flared up more over the past couple of weeks. When he did not turn up for practice, former ESPN reporter Josina Anderson tweeted that the Saints would consider a trade.
Speculation about the best possible destinations for him mounted, with the Los Angeles Rams, Las Vegas Raiders, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots all being mentioned.
But while those rumors were still bubbling, it emerged that the frostiness between Kamara’s camp and the Saints organization had thawed, and that he would show up on Wednesday.
Things now seem to be moving towards an extension, not neatly perhaps, but with at least some sense of purpose. And so, in all probability, Brees gets to take what most think is his final shot – he signed a two year contract but even head coach Sean Payton has described this as his last dance – with his preferred corps in place.
Of course, even then there are no guarantees. This is an unpredictable league and going into the campaign, the Saints are currently listed at 12-to-1 odds to win it all, via FOX Bet. This is shaping up as a wild season where normal conventions count for little.
The Saints do have a good set up, though, and what Brees is hoping for is a chance, and a little bit of luck to keep himself and the key pieces around him. He wants an opportunity to get into the meatiest part of the year, the postseason, and to turn on the magic one more time.
Brees has one career Super Bowl to his name, obviously the worthiest of all football achievements. But he would dearly love another and probably feels like his career exploits, holding the all-time record for yards, completions and touchdowns, warrant it.
The most concrete rule in the NFL is that unforeseen stuff happens, the best of the best are the teams who deal with flux most effectively. If the Saints can work things out with Kamara, it won’t necessarily be a step towards the promised land, but perhaps we avoid seeing Brees’ window of opportunity slam shut.