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Mark Ingram suspended 4 games. What does this mean for the Saints?

It’ll be on Alvin Kamara to carry the load early in the 2018 season.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans SaintsPro Bowl running back Mark Ingram is facing a suspension for the first four games of the 2018 season for a violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, according to Nick Underhill of The New Orleans Advocate.

Ingram, 28, earned his second trip to the Pro Bowl in 2017 when he finished the year with 1,124 rushing yards, 416 receiving yards, and 12 rushing touchdowns. All three were career best totals for the running back.

Ingram denied he used an illegal substance and has challenged the suspension:

But according to the NFL, the appeal has already been denied. Ingram is just waiting to read the arbitrator’s reasoning:

That means Ingram is set to miss all of September.

What does this mean for the Saints?

Alvin Kamara was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017 and progressively stole snaps from Ingram as the year went on.

With Ingram sidelined, the Saints will move Kamara into a full-time role for the beginning of the year. That could be revealing about the young star’s long-term future with the franchise and viability as a workhorse back.

After Kamara, there’s sixth-round pick Boston Scott, and a few inexperienced backs who could step into the spotlight, including second-year back Trey Edmunds. Don’t be surprised if the Saints parse through the remaining free agents to add some depth at running back.

The Saints have some winnable games on the schedule while Ingram is out:

He’ll be set to return before a Week 5 matchup at home against Washington. But the real impact of the suspension could be that it phases Ingram out of New Orleans entirely.

What does this mean for Mark Ingram?

The veteran will turn 29 in 2018, which isn’t old for most positions but it’s where many running backs slow down. With Ingram set to reach free agency in 2019 and Kamara stepping in as an instant star in 2017, there may not have been much more of a future with the Saints for Ingram.

His suspension and contract dispute only exacerbate that:

Finding a trade partner for a suspended player could be tough, but Ingram has been one of the most consistently productive running backs in the NFL for a long time. A team may be willing to take him even if it means he sits for the first month. And even if it doesn’t happen soon, he could also be a candidate for a midseason deal before the October trade deadline.

It’s hard to get a big pay day at running back and even harder with age 30 approaching, but Ingram can still land another decent contract. His suspension just makes it even more unlikely that it’ll be the Saints making the offer.