When a high-profile player enters the last year of his contract, it’s usually a big deal.
“Usually” is the operative term because, when it comes to Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, no one seems to notice that one of the best young players in the NFL is careening toward free agency, with no sign that the Saints can or will give him a new deal.
A third-round pick in 2010, Graham has seen New England 2010 second-rounder Rob Gronkowski and New England 2010 fourth-rounder Aaron Hernandez get long-term deal after the 2011 season. You know, the same season in which Graham ping-ponged with Gronk for the single-season tight end receiving yardage record.
To his credit, Graham doesn’t complain about the lack of a new contract. His camp doesn’t piss and/or moan privately to the press about the team’s failure to shift the injury risk (see Gronkowski and Hernandez) away from a player who arguably has earned that privilege.
As a result, hardly anyone realizes Graham is in a contract year. On Tuesday, he spoke to the media in connection with the team’s mandatory minicamp, and the transcript shows not a single question about his contract. There’s also not a single answer alluding to his desire to get paid.
“Everything is going well,” Graham said. “I’ve been in rehab and I’ve been getting stronger. Right now I’m almost 100 percent. Going into camp, I’ll be 100 percent. It just feels good. It just feels good to be healthy finally and back playing like myself. . . . Now I am healthy and just looking to the future and looking to get back in the playoffs.”
If he performs well, the Saints will find themselves in a potential predicament. A multi-million-dollar franchise-tag fight is looming on the question of whether he’s a tight end or a receiver (it surely is).
Regardless of how it’s resolved, the Saints may not have the cap room to use either level of the tag on Graham. As Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com recently pointed out, the Saints have $143.4 million in salary commitments for 2014.
With the cap at $123 million and only inching up, Drew Brees may need an explanation come March.