Saints more likely to downsize than upgrade at running back

A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2016 offseason -- counting down from No. 13 to No. 1 in order of need for upgrades or replacements. At No. 13 is running back.

Current depth chart:

Mark Ingram. Age 26, signed through 2018. 2016 salary and bonuses: $3.1 million. 2016 salary-cap number: $4 million.

Tim Hightower. Age 29, unrestricted free agent.

Khiry Robinson. Age 26, restricted free agent.

C.J. Spiller. Age 28, signed through 2018. 2016 salary and bonuses: $3.25 million. 2016 salary-cap number: $4.5 million.

Marcus Murphy. Age 24, signed through 2018. 2016 salary and bonuses: $525,000. 2016 salary-cap number: $542,322.

Travaris Cadet. Age 27 (as of Feb. 1), unrestricted free agent.

Kendall Hunter. Age 27, unrestricted free agent.


This isn't a flawless group. But the Saints already have more quality options than they can fit on the roster. So I'd be very surprised to see them invest heavily in somebody new via free agency or the draft.

If anything, I would actually expect New Orleans to downsize at running back – possibly parting ways with Spiller, Robinson or Hightower. If they let two or more of those guys go, then maybe a mid-round draft pick could come into play.

Ingram is the only back who is firmly entrenched on the depth chart. He is coming off of the best two years of his pro career, proving himself as an every-down back as a runner, receiver and pass protector. He has battled a series of minor injuries, though, including shoulder surgery that landed him on injured reserve in December.

Robinson has been a great young, cheap understudy since the Saints discovered him as an undrafted tryout player out of West Texas A&M in 2013. But now that Robinson is a restricted free agent, the Saints will have to pony up a bit to keep him. They'll need to make a one-year qualifying offer around $1.5 million with no draft-pick compensation or closer to $2.5 million with second-round compensation.

Spiller's first year in New Orleans was a flop, partly because of a minor knee surgery he underwent during training camp. But if the Saints cut him before June 1, he will actually count more against the cap ($5.3 million) than if they keep him. So there's a good chance they'll give him another summer to regain his spark.

Hightower, meanwhile, was one of the most pleasant surprises of the Saints' 2015 season, reviving his career after three-plus years out of the NFL. He played fantastic down the stretch after Ingram's injury. He could potentially come cheaper than both Spiller and Robinson and provide even more bang for the buck.

Cadet also left a strong lasting impression after rejoining the Saints in mid-December. He and Murphy are both good depth options as runner/receiver/return men.