The running back class of 2017 was one for the ages, and it has made headlines all offseason. First-round picks — Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey being the two from the 2017 running back class — have a fifth-year option in their rookie contract, while players selected outside the first round do not. That means teams with players from the 2017 class have had decisions to make all offseason, whether that be on fifth-year options or on whether to extend these players before the final year of their contracts.
Early in the offseason, McCaffrey got his new deal, while the Jaguars declined Fournette's fifth-year option and eventually . But a fifth-year option was not on the table for Dalvin Cook or Joe Mixon, and both have been the subject of rumors and in the case of Cook outright discussions of holdouts. Now we can add Alvin Kamara to that list of non-first-rounders from the 2017 class who appears to be angling for a new deal before the 2020 season. Earlier Monday, we got word there was something fishy surrounding Kamara's absences from recent practices.
Saints coach Sean Payton declined to clarify whether RB Alvin Kamara’s absence from practices since Friday has been injury or non-injury related. Payton declined to give details on any player absences.— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) August 31, 2020
This followed similar speculation about Mixon recently missing practice time, though that has been attributed to migraines. And speculation has followed Cook since a June report that he would hold out if he didn't get a new deal. But Cook did report to Vikings camp, and the latest on his situation is the Vikings and Cook have broken off contract talks. Cook continues to practice, and the Vikings' recent trade for Yannick Ngakoue has likely limited their ability to get anything done anyway.
But at least in Kamara's case, there appears to be fire behind the smoke.
Saints' RB Alvin Kamara has had an unexcused absence from training camp the past three days and it is believe to be contract related, per sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 31, 2020
The confirmation that the absences are unexcused is a major red flag for those drafting anytime this week. Kamara is of course a top-five pick in nearly any format, but this latest information could obviously jeopardize his availability early in the season. We can only speculate on whether there is movement here or whether Kamara might eventually report, but when you add in the ongoing pandemic, it doesn't seem hard to fathom that a player might make a decision to sit out, hence the discussion around each of these backs throughout different points this offseason.
We know from the 2018 Le'Veon Bell and 2019 Melvin Gordon situations that these scenarios can play out in various ways. But we also know that the new CBA ratified in 2020 included language that made it less likely for a player who misses time for unexcused reasons to accrue a season toward free agency. This is important when considering the case of Gordon — while Gordon missed part of the season, he returned in time to accrue a season toward free agency and was free to leave the Chargers and sign with the Broncos.
While the new language in the CBA has yet to be put to the test, the broad understanding seems to be that a situation like Gordon's would no longer be possible. In other words, if Kamara and the Saints do not reach an agreement and he does decide to continue holding out into the season, he wouldn't accrue a full season and have the ability to become a free agent after 2020.
But opinions on how this could play out have not been uniform throughout the offseason, and ultimately it's up to the individual if they want to test it. If Kamara decides he's not playing without a new contract, especially during a pandemic, it's not like the Saints or anyone could force him to suit up.
What to do with Kamara is ultimately a decision of risk tolerance. Given that we know, he's currently not reporting and incurring unexcused absences, I personally would have a hard time passing on the many other great first-round options available to me to pick him. At the same time, if Kamara were to fall and get scooped up in the back half of the first round, that could prove to be a considerable value if he reaches a new deal or decides to report.
Meanwhile, Latavius Murray is the likely beneficiary in the Saints backfield, and Murray had back-to-back games over 30 PPR points when Kamara missed two contests in 2019. Murray moves up into seventh or eighth-round consideration until we receive word on Kamara's status. Free agent addition Ty Montgomery becomes a later-round PPR option, and has reportedly been practicing in the pass-catching role during Kamara's absence.
Other running backs from the 2017 class playing on the final year of their rookie deals include Aaron Jones, James Conner, Chris Carson, Tarik Cohen and Marlon Mack, but there has been no indication any intends to miss regular season time. Kareem Hunt, also a member of the 2017 class, has since signed a new deal after being released by Kansas City.