METAIRIE, La. — Alvin Kamara mostly sidestepped questions about his contract talks with the New Orleans Saints on Monday, insisting that his focus is on Sunday’s season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But Kamara did counter the narrative that he was holding out from Saints practices during a recent four-day stretch, when sources said his absence was unexcused.
“I ain’t never held out in my life,” said Kamara, who spoke to the media for the first time since his absence. “I came to the building every day. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
A source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that Kamara was also seeking treatment for a back issue during those absences. But Kamara returned to practice fully last week and said Monday that he is not concerned about the back being an issue.
“It’s something light,” Kamara said. “I kind of dealt with it a little bit last camp too. Just a little flare-up, just a little [sacroiliac] joint flare-up. It just needed some rest, a little injection, but nothing serious.”
Kamara is heading into the final year of his rookie contract, but so far he and the Saints have been unable to bridge the gap regarding a long-term extension.
A source confirmed that New Orleans was even open to the idea of trading Kamara for a first-round pick in light of his absence from practice. But the source indicated that things had calmed down before Kamara returned last Wednesday.
Kamara declined to respond, however, when asked Monday whether he is confident a contract will get done and whether he plans to play every game if it doesn’t.
“We’re getting ready for Week 1. Today was a good day [of practice],” Kamara repeated more than once. “We focused on Tampa, installed the first part of the game plan, just working some of those little kinks out. … Just ready for Sunday.”
Saints coach Sean Payton was also asked Monday whether he’s concerned about Kamara being affected if he doesn’t have a new deal in place.
“No. 1, we would never discuss any type of contract progress with the media,” Payton said. “I’m confident that at some point we’ll get this done, and we’ll let you know when that happens.”
Determining where Kamara’s value lies may ultimately prove too difficult, since there is a wide chasm between Christian McCaffrey’s $16 million per year and Joe Mixon’s $12 million per year in recent extensions for NFL running backs.
However, this is not a case in which the Saints are eager to part ways with their three-time Pro Bowler, who was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017 after being drafted in the third round out of Tennessee. The Saints have made an offer that at least shows they’re 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, 25, has a total of 2,408 rushing yards, 2,068 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns in three seasons. He has exactly 81 catches in each of his first three seasons — despite missing two games last year and being hampered by knee and ankle injuries over the final half of the season.