Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has finished the final year of his rookie deal, leaving the Saints with a couple of choices if they don’t want to risk losing him as a free agent.
They can sign Graham to a long-term deal or they can use the franchise tag, a choice that’s fraught with its own potential trouble for New Orleans. By NFL rule, players are given a franchise tag at the position where they participated in the most plays and Graham was used as a traditional, in-line tight end just one-third of the time during the 2013 season. That could set up a fight about whether Graham should be treated as a receiver or if the job description of a tight end has changed enough that he still qualifies at that spot.
It’s a fight that the Saints are willing to have. Speaking at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said, via WWL-TV, that the Saints would use the franchise tag on Graham if they are unable to reach agreement on a longer deal. And Loomis said they’d franchise him as a tight end, since he was drafted as one and, in the mind of the team, remains one.
That would likely impact the Saints’ approach to negotiations on a long-term deal as well. There’s a sizable gap between the franchise tags for the two positions and using the tight end figure ($6 million in 2013) makes for lower starting place for contract talks.
The Packers and Jermichael Finley were headed toward a similar standoff a couple of years ago, but wound up agreeing on a two-year contract that stopped the squabble before it really got going. Given the big difference in salary between the two franchise tags, there’s an obvious benefit to the Saints in having Graham franchised as a tight end as it would leave the door open for doing it twice without breaking the bank.
The opposite would be true for Graham, which could mean that it takes a while before we know Graham’s status for the 2014 season.