Ravens veteran RB Mark Ingram could be heading into his last year with the team
In his first season with the team, Baltimore Ravens veteran running back Mark Ingram not only established himself as a playmaker in their record-breaking rushing attack and the perfect complement to quarterback Lamar Jackson in the ground game during his MVP campaign, but he also became one of the foremost leaders on the team and an instant fan favorite.
Despite earning his third Pro Bowl nod in the last four years, topping 1,000 yards rushing, over 1,200 from scrimmage and scoring a franchise record-tying 15 total touchdowns, Ingram still might live out the remainder of his three-year contract worth $15 million that he signed with the Ravens last March.
The reason being that this offseason the Ravens drafted his eventual successor and potential perennial Pro Bowler when they took former Ohio State standout J.K. Dobbins in the second round with the pick they acquired in the Hayden Hurst traded. It was one of the biggest steals in the draft because many, including the Ravens, viewed him as a first-round talent that happened to slip into the middle of the second.
While Ingram remains the unquestioned starter heading into the season, there are those, specifically in the fantasy football community, that believe that the rookie could overtake the nine-year vet for the lion share of touches before the year’s end. However, based on glowing reports from training camp, Dobbins could usurp the starting role much sooner than anticipated.
The former Buckeye has been one of the brightest standouts in camp thus far and has been especially impressive ever since the pads came on last week. Not only is he wearing the same jersey number of for Raven and three-time Pro Bowler Ray Rice, but he is playing like him too. He brings the same dynamic dimensions as a receiver out of the backfield as he does as a rusher.
Dobbins dazzled the handful of reporters scattered in the stands during the team’s first practice at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. He fought through the tackle of first-round linebacker Patrick Queen in running backs versus linebackers one-on-one drills and on his next rep he left a defender grabbing air with a great juke move. His best play of the day came as a receiver when he made an incredible leaping grab for a touchdown in the back corner of the end zone with undrafted rookie linebacker Kristian Welch tight in coverage.
His ability to maneuver and make defenders miss in open space has been was on full display on a long run he broke in full team 11-on-11 drill. He ran through a hole between the tackles and made undrafted rookie safety Nigel Warrior miss a tackle with a filthy open-field move.
Those are just a few excerpts from just one practice. His dynamic playmaking ability, toughness, elusiveness, and fiery competitiveness have helped him stand out among all the rookies in camp, even Queen and make him look like quite the steal already for just the 55th overall pick.
“J.K., I’ve been really impressed with,” Running Backs Coach Matt Weiss said Saturday, a day before the Stadium practice session. “I think every day, his athleticism, his physicality, his vision – all the things that make a great running back – show up on the field.”
Wiess also said in that same press conference that he still believes Ingram is still an ascending talent and the veteran himself has looked good in camp this year in his own right and feels he has several more productive seasons left in the tank. However, given the glimpses that the young and inexpensive rookie has already shown and the role he is projected to have in year one, Ingram might have to go be productive elsewhere after this season.
The Ravens have several young cornerstone players coming down the pipeline that will need their contracts addressed in the next two years. First-team All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley will be playing on the final year of his rookie contract in 2020 and could become the highest-paid non-quarterback in the league when he finally signs on the dotted line. Other first-rounders and key players like fellow First-Team All-Pro selections cornerback Marlon Humphrey and the reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson will be up for new deals shortly after.
With the salary cap set to take a dip next offseason due to lost revenue that COVID-19 will cost the league in 2020, teams around the league will be forced to say goodbye to many of the upper to mid-tier veterans on manageable but expendable contracts like Ingram. The Ravens would free up $5 million ins cap space if they were to move on from him after this season whether it was via trade or release.
While the team is dedicated to having a four-headed monster in the backfield this year at the running back position, the cold business side of the NFL could force a premature parting of ways between the organization and one of the best free-agent signings in team history even though he’d only been here a short time.
Dobbins is the future featured back who has All-Pro potential written all over him and they still have Gus Edwards under contract through 2021 if they elect to tender him again the offseason, and 2019 fourth-round pick Justice Hill playing on a rookie deal for another two seasons after this year and is chomping at the bit to see the field more.
Since large contracts are looming and younger options at the running back position on the roster with explosive playmaking ability, having a seasoned veteran leader that can still produce at a high but not elite level might be a luxury the Ravens won’t be able to afford beyond this season.